Mikaela Shiffrin, missing home, ponders ski racing future ahead of season

Mikaela Shiffrin
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VIENNA — A year that turned Mikaela Shiffrin’s world upside down has left the American standout wondering how much time she has left in ski racing, with the start of the new season fast approaching.

The double Olympic and three-time overall World Cup champion hasn’t truly considered quitting the sport yet but is questioning how long all the traveling will still be worth it.

Being home, close to family, has become even more important to the 25-year-old since the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, in early February.

“I used to worry about winning ski races, and maybe I will again,” Shiffrin said Tuesday in a conference call. “But then my nana died (in October 2019), and I still worried about winning ski races. And then my dad died, and I just gave up ski racing altogether and thought I wouldn’t come back at all.”

She has asked herself, “Is it worth it?”

“The whole season is in Europe, and we are away from home for around six months during the season, and for another two months during the summer period. I am home not very often,” Shiffrin said.

“I have so much passion, and I want to do this, and here I am, and I’m doing it, but it also takes me away from the people that I love,” she said. “At some point that is going to be too much. My brother is back home, I am not going to see him for a pretty long time, but my mom is traveling with me. If she was not able to come, I would not be here, 100 percent.”

Also, she started thinking about what her dad would have wanted her to do.

“I don’t think my dad would want me to stop for him. But it is also hard to know that because he can’t be here to tell me. Those are the things that I struggle with: How long will it be worth the travel, being away from home, all of those things,” she said. “In a way it was a consideration, but I wasn’t thinking: OK, I am going to quit now.”

When Shiffrin pushes out of the start gate for the World Cup season opener on Oct. 17 in Soelden, Austria, it will have been nearly nine months since her last race — when she picked up her 66th career World Cup win at a super-G in Bulgaria.

She was sitting out speed races in Sochi the following week at the time of her father’s accident at the family’s home in Colorado. She and her mother, Eileen, rushed back to the United States.

Having lost her lead in the overall ranking to Federica Brignone and in the slalom standings to Petra Vlhova five weeks later, Shiffrin returned to Europe in mid-March for races in Sweden but was denied a chance to compete as the remainder of the season was canceled amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which prompted them to return to the United States.

Forced to stay at home, the pandemic helped Shiffrin in trying to come to terms with the loss of her father.

She took to social media several times, sharing how she was trying to cope.

“I actually find it easier to talk about that publicly, more than privately. People would expect that I might feel this way, so it’s almost easier to say it then,” Shiffrin said. “Sometimes it’s easier to say something to the public on Instagram, something that maybe would help other people and that’s a little bit motivation to speak about it. When I’m talking privately to basically anybody, it’s a lot more difficult to talk about it.”

In September, the Shiffrin family teamed up with a group of six donors in creating the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund, aiming to sustain coaching, training camps, and competition expenses for American athletes in the current, challenging times, with the Beijing Winter Olympics only 16 months away.

Earlier, Shiffrin had gone back on skis after 16 weeks without training, almost twice as much as the usual nine-week off-season break.

The team got 10 days at Copper Mountain and 14 more at Mount Hood. And after arriving in Europe last week, Shiffrin trained twice with the Austrian team.

“One day I was pretty far behind, one day I was OK,” she said. “It’s like having an injury, but you can’t really see it. It takes some time to come back in the right way, to be mentally ready to focus that hard and put in so much effort to be that fast again.”

Off the slopes she is not totally at ease, either, in the Austrian Alps. Walking through the village, memories pop up.

“My dad came to Soelden a couple of times,” she said. “We go into the grocery store, and I think about the time he was here and maybe I can feel him, but otherwise it is pretty hard to feel him close here, so that is really uncomfortable.”

It is a feeling, Shiffrin is aware, that will not disappear.

“That is something for my mom and me, we have to get used to the feeling of being uncomfortable, because we can’t stay inside the house forever,” she said. “It’s part of the process, I guess.”

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup alters schedule amid pandemic

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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