Mikaela Shiffrin is less than a month into what she hopes is a more normal season, and she’s already experiencing why ski racing is never that predictable.
She earned her 70th World Cup victory at the opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23. Shiffrin flew home and set out for a two-week training block chock full of days with one session each of speed-event and technical-event work in her native Colorado.
But a back injury that’s bothered the 26-year-old throughout her career flared up. Last fall, acute back tightness kept her out of Soelden, affected her for two months and led her to say it was the first injury that posed some threat to her ski racing career.
Shiffrin believes the worst of this episode is over, but it reduced her domestic training by about 85 percent before flying to Europe for the first slaloms of the season in Levi, Finland, on Saturday and Sunday (Peacock, 4:30 a.m. ET first run, 7:30 second run both days).
“It’s just back to sort of the normal ski racer [back] stiffness,” said Shiffrin, describing the previous ailment as something more than a muscle spasm.
If she sweeps the weekend races, Shiffrin will break Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark‘s record for World Cup wins in a single discipline.
Stenmark won 46 giant slaloms. Shiffrin is at 45 slalom victories after adding two last season, going 300 days between races after her father’s February 2020 death, the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the back pain.
Slovakian Petra Vlhova and then Austrian Katharina Liensberger emerged as challengers, rivals and then conquerors in Shiffrin’s trademark slalom the last few seasons. Their battle resumes in Levi, where Shiffrin has won four times and the prize is a reindeer.
Many of the questions to Shiffrin in a 50-minute press conference Wednesday looked ahead to her third Olympics in February (she is the only U.S. skier who has so far clinched a spot on the team).
Shiffrin repeated that the plan in pencil is to race all five individual events at the Winter Games. She also wanted to do that in 2018 but dropped out of the super-G and downhill after weather postponed the giant slalom and slalom and compressed the schedule.
“I’m planning to race everything, and we’ll have to adjust the schedule from there,” Shiffrin said. “We’ll know more a lot closer to the Games.”
Shiffrin’s preparation and World Cup results will play a role, too. The technical events of slalom and GS are still the priority. If she notices a drop-off in either, she has shelved speed work in the past to put her focus fully on those events.
And then there’s her back.
“The management plan for the different types of flare-ups she has, we’ve gone through a number of them, and we know what works and doesn’t,” U.S. women’s Alpine head coach Paul Kristofic said. “We know some of the triggers as well. So we avoid those, and it’s just managing her the best way we can, and having contingencies in place when we do have issues.”
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