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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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing World Cup schedule released

Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
AP
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SIENA, Italy (AP) — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

Shawn Johnson
Getty Images
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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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