Mikaela Shiffrin said she didn’t sleep for three days after what may prove a turning point in her season, a 17th-place giant slalom finish on Dec. 17. She described her skiing that day as “appalling.”
“I really, really hope I haven’t messed this up for the rest of the season,” Shiffrin said of her thoughts at the time in Courchevel, France. “There’s also the other aspect of it. … After the [record] 17 victories last season, it’s been more difficult than I expected to not compare every move I make this season to what I did last season and to not feel like, no matter what I do, I’m coming up short either overall points wise or race wins wise or how I’m handling my energy.”
Shiffrin then skipped the following weekend’s races before sweeping a giant slalom and slalom in Lienz, Austria, last weekend.
She’s back on track heading into the first race of 2020, a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold). She’s favored to earn her 65th World Cup victory and 44th in a slalom to break Lindsey Vonn‘s record for the most victories in a single discipline for a woman.
Shiffrin said she would use “appalling” to describe many of her races over a decade-long career.
“But none of them have ended up with a result as low as Courchevel,” she said of her worst finish in a technical race — outside of DNFs — in more than five years. “It was more than anything a wake-up call that everybody’s improving. I never expect to win races, and I never expect to even podium, but I really can’t just come to the finish line crossing my fingers that it might be good enough. I have to make it good enough. If I don’t, then I might be in 17th place.”
Shiffrin’s parents traveled to Europe for Christmas week, as planned, but her mom and longtime coach, Eileen, flew over two days early. Back in the fall, Eileen had stepped back from her coaching role (mutual decision) and didn’t travel for the season-opening slalom in November.
The hope is that Eileen will stay in Europe through a Jan. 14 slalom in Flachau, Austria. Possibly through speed races in late January and early February.
“She gives me strength that I can’t find within myself,” Shiffrin said. “I could really feel that this past weekend [in Lienz]. It’s always been that way.”
Shiffrin won four of her last five starts in the Zagreb slalom, which awards a crystal Snow Queen crown to winners. She made the podium of the last 14 traditional World Cup slaloms, winning all but one of them.
That kind of dominance allowed Shiffrin to train slalom just once or twice in the first four weeks of December yet still prevail in Lienz by .61 of a second.
But it’s Shiffrin’s GS struggles — even if just one day of 17th-place racing after making the previous six podiums — that led her to question if she had peaked at age 24. She listed that one result as one of her most unforgettable moments of 2019, along with winning last season’s slalom world title and giant slalom World Cup title, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Maybe the best version of me is in the past, and that kind of stinks,” said Shiffrin, who at 64 World Cup wins trails just Marcel Hirscher (67), Lindsey Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark (86). “This last week [before Lienz] I’ve been trying to come to terms with that not really being the reality. It’s just not comparable. I’ve said it in interviews, and I have to start believing that.”
Shiffrin could be in for her busiest start to a calendar year yet, hopefully contesting the next speed races in Austria from Jan. 11-12, and noting further speed weekends in Bulgaria (Jan. 25-26) and Russia (Feb. 1-2).
“It sounds really ridiculous even reflecting on it now,” Shiffrin, who appears en route to a fourth straight overall title, said of the Courchevel 17th. “Maybe I just needed to get a grip on reality or gain some perspective, but at the same time this is what I’m doing, and I want to do it as well as I can. It’s a big deal, at least in my own head and what I felt in my heart.”
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