Mikaela Shiffrin, after the best season of her career, ponders what’s next

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NEW YORK — Mikaela Shiffrin, coming off what she said was the best season of her career (the stats back it up), sat down with OlympicTalk to reflect on last winter and look ahead to next season.

Shiffrin spoke at a Hudson Yards high-rise in Manhattan before an event as a Longines Ambassador to launch a Conquest Classic watch collection. Interview is lightly edited for clarity.

OlympicTalk: Seventeen World Cup wins, two world titles and four crystal globes. Best season of your career?

Shiffrin: Yeah, for sure. As far as every World Cup season goes, I measure my success off of my results. I kind of judge my skiing itself how I’m training, my technique and tactics, but the races are the best checkpoint to see how everything’s going. For sure it was my best season results-wise. I also felt quite a bit more comfortable this season with everything than I have the past few years. I don’t know if it was about coming off of an Olympic season and feeling like I sort of let go of the control I had been trying to grasp onto. I was like, you know what, anything can happen so I might as well try to enjoy this a little bit more.

OlympicTalk: Was the slalom world title, overcoming illness, the most memorable race?

Shiffrin: That’s definitely on the top of the list. I think there’s a few races that I’m going to remember, for sure the final giant slalom race in conjunction with winning the GS globe [for the first time]. My first super-G win. Winning the super-G at world championships as well. The slalom at world championships comes to the top of my head this season, but also in my career. The slalom was big for me because it was pushing through pain at a level that I really hadn’t experienced before. I’m used to pushing through aches and pains and some kind of discomfort, and I’ve raced sick many times, that’s not a problem. But the way that I felt for this race and not being able breathe and all of these pieces.

OlympicTalk: Was that the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career?

Shiffrin: It’s sort of like ranking races. Ranking obstacles is a similar [tough] thing. Probably the struggles that I’ve dealt with anxiety have been more of the most ongoing struggles. This past season has been one of my most enjoyable even with, in some ways, more pressure. I felt like rather than ignoring that pressure I was able to accept it and then deal with it. It’s sort of rather than putting a Band-Aid on a wound, you’re actually just healing it and figuring out a way to accept whatever external forces are going on.

I had to go through several years worrying about what people were saying and what media was saying and what teammates were saying and competitors and everything and family and support. What everybody thought, the worries of disappointing everybody. I had to go through actually disappointing them to realize that it really doesn’t matter. After [finishing fourth in] the slalom at the Olympics was a tough period because winning a gold medal in GS and a silver in the combined, but having most people remember for not winning the gold in the slalom is strange.

There are some athletes that can go compete in the Olympics and turn a bronze medal into the greatest thing ever and people remember them as if they won gold. Then there are some people that can build up the expectations so high, and then anything less Is really a failure in anybody’s book. I walked away knowing that everything that happened, the schedule changes, all of the challenges that I faced, and that Alpine racers faced, thinking this was just an incredible success. Some people maybe disagreed, but you have to go through disappointing people to realize it doesn’t matter. Then this season, I was just doing this for me, right?

OlympicTalk: What does preparation for next season look like?

Shiffrin: When I go to South America [for the first on-snow training] in September, I’ll sit down with my coaches and we’ll look at the schedule, probably through January or February and maybe through the rest of the season and pick and choose which races are the most likely I can do. Then of course everything changes. It’s all up in the air if weather changes, but we try and get an idea of where we’re going to be at the beginning of the season and try and compare to what we did last season. So I’ll say I like this training venue, but I didn’t like traveling the day before the race to Semmering for instance [where Shiffrin was fifth in a giant slalom last December, then won the slalom the next day]. I was exhausted for the race day. I need a day in between to get my feet back under me. Something like that.

OlympicTalk: You had talked for years of a goal to win the giant slalom season title. Now that it’s out of the way, what’s next on your list?

Shiffrin: I don’t think there’s anything more. I’m still here, and I still have the motivation. I’m still willing to suffer in the gym. Go out and train on the hill. If part of me thought if I was like just out here trying to win races or there was some specific result I wanted to achieve, and I achieved it, then my motivation would be gone. I’m always saying I’m not shooting to break records. That’s not the primary focus. Although it’s something that’s motivating and inspirational, it’s not why I started skiing and it’s not why I’m continuing.

This season was almost like a test because breaking all these records, and achieving winning the GS globe, winning the super-G globe — not unexpectedly but in some ways unexpectedly compared to where I thought I would be at the beginning of the season. All these things happened, and I thought, in many ways, what is there left to accomplish? I still always go back to the fact that I feel like I can ski better.

It’s not necessarily winning more races, but it’s seeing if I can manage my schedule better this year. If I can get through the season without getting sick, without getting overtired. How can I work better with my team, with my coaches? There’s a lot of little pieces that can make it run more smoothly. My biggest motivation is seeing how much more precise I can be skiing. This year was so much more fun for me, not just because I had a lot of great races and won globes, but because my GS skiing got to a level that I had almost lost hope that I could ever get to that level.

Hopefully I can keep moving forward with that, and slalom as well. Speed [downhill and super-G] is a whole other beast. It seems like there’s a lot of untapped territory, even though results-wise I accomplished most of what I could really dream of.

OlympicTalk: Will your speed strategy remain the same: enter the first races in Lake Louise in December and then reassess?

Shiffrin: Start with Lake Louise, and then see how things go. But the fact that we don’t have a big event [Olympics, world champs] this season sort of opens up the middle of the season. There’s a stretch in the middle where it looks like there’s going to be a break in tech races for almost one month [in January and February]. If that’s true, then I’ll for sure take some of that time for rest and training, but I might be able to race in some speed races that I would not have otherwise considered.

OlympicTalk: One thing you haven’t accomplished, but have said you hope to, is win races in every discipline in one year. Could that lead you to enter more speed races next season?

Shiffrin: That’s something that I think about. Sitting here, I would say that wouldn’t be a thing that sways my decision, but you never know. It’s sort of like this past season, I wasn’t going to race the super-G at World Cup Finals. Then Sochi was canceled, all this happened, and now I’m in the lead for the super-G globe, so I have to race.

If there’s no reason not to race in a downhill or super-G, and that’s kind of the thing I want to achieve, and there’s a reason to, then I would race. But one of the most important things tot me is to not get greedy with goals like that. It’s a dream. I wouldn’t say it’s a goal. Something I dreamed about when I was little. I looked at Bode Miller, I think he won a race in all events in a single season [Editor’s Note: Miller never got all five disciplines in one season; but Marc Girardelli, Petra Kronberger, Janica Kostelic and Tina Maze have.].

Janica Kostelic won every event in the span of like two weeks or something [Editor’s Note: Kostelic did it from Dec. 21, 2005, to Feb. 6, 2006, leading up to the Torino Olympics]. I was thinking, wow, that was incredible. But the sport has changed since then. Maybe I boil it down to too much statistics. You can easily get sidetracked with those dreams, and then that’s when something hits. That’s when you get overtired and you crash, and these sorts of things happen.

OlympicTalk: Four years ago, you sat down with Ted Ligety in a film session and basically asked him, how do you do what you do? If you could show a younger teammate one of your race runs in a similar session, which would it be?

Shiffrin: When I watch video with my teammates, it depends on what they’re looking for. I do that, actually, bring up races from previous seasons and go over it with the girls, especially the younger girls if it’s their first time at a venue. But that’s more so they can get an idea of the hill.

I guess I would show my GS race from Kronplatz this year. It’s one of the best feelings that I’ve had in a race, especially in GS.The first run I was so fluid. It’s not even so much about the technique, but the mindset that I had and how it translated to my skiing was really cool to me. [Shiffrin had the fastest first run by a whopping 1.39 seconds and won overall by 1.21, her first victory in three visits to the Italian venue.]

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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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