Mikaela Shiffrin fights fatigue as World Cup season hits turning point

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Mikaela Shiffrin has little free time these days — during the part of the season where she feels most fatigued — but she has noticed the reaction to her finishing second and third in her last two slaloms, sandwiched by a DNF in a combined race.

“It’s really funny to think that this would be what most people would consider like a bad season or poor results or something, but I’ve been on both [slalom] podiums [in 2020] and won multiple races [this season],” she said Thursday after getting edged in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017. “It’s sort of like, OK, I’ll take that. … If this is what a bad season [is], then I’m going to take that and be grateful and keep working because the position I’m in is pretty incredible when you think about it.”

That position is a familiar one, leading the World Cup overall standings comfortably (by 273 points) as the season nears its midpoint. Shiffrin is on pace to become the second woman to win four straight overalls, joining Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll.

Competition continues this weekend. The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, for a giant slalom and parallel giant slalom on Saturday (8:05 a.m. ET) and Sunday (5:45 a.m.) on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

It marks the culmination of a monthlong stretch of technical races — Shiffrin’s specialties — at six stops among five different countries. The racing, the traveling left her short on training and resting, common for her at the turn of January given the World Cup calendar is similar from year to year.

“It’s hard to totally find that fire when I’m kind of beating my head against the wall,” she said.

A difference this year: the improvement of fellow 24-year-old Petra Vlhova, the Slovakian who won the last two World Cup slaloms. Vlhova previously beat Shiffrin in back-to-back slaloms at the end of the 2016-17 season and beginning of the 2017-18 season, but Shiffrin reasserted her dominance after finishing fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“It just seems to me like [Vlhova] has been gaining more and more confidence in her skiing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s taken her a while to get to the point where she really has the confidence to throw down in that sense.”

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup slalom standings — 80 points — from winning the first three slaloms this season. If Shiffrin finishes second in the final four slaloms this winter, Vlhova would have to win them all to take the title on a tiebreak.

Vlhova’s team has been known to film other skiers’ training sessions, a practice that is not illegal in the sport (and common when athletes from different nations train together). Back in November, Shiffrin expressed concern about being filmed during training by those whose athletes weren’t present, but she clarified Thursday that she was not referring to Vlhova’s team in that interview.

“[Vlhova] has gotten her skiing to a really incredible point,” Shiffrin said Thursday. “I absolutely respect that, and that’s it.”

After Sestriere comes three straight weekends of speed races: downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin plans to head to the first set in Bulgaria next weekend, then take it day by day from there. She’s looking forward to the next technical events in Slovenia in mid-February, which she likened to “a new season.”

“I was skiing at 100 percent of my ability [in recent races], knowing that my ability was maybe not as high as it has been when I’ve come off a really good training session or a block of rest,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to raise my level of skiing again, but it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

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