A breathless Mikaela Shiffrin answered the phone and asked to push back an interview with NBC five minutes.
When she called back, she explained the brief delay.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was at the gym and I was trying to finish one last set before we spoke.”
Strength training is a newfound priority for the 21-year-old skier.
Shiffrin has traditionally focused on the technical disciplines, slalom and giant slalom, which require agility for quick turning. Now she is expanding her portfolio to include the speed disciplines, super-G and downhill, which require isometric strength to hold the tuck position longer and deeper.
Shiffrin’s first priority this season remains competing in the technical disciplines, which she calls “my babies.” The 2014 Olympic slalom champion is looking to claim her fourth World Cup crystal globe in slalom this season.
Gaining experience in the speed disciplines is her second priority.
Shiffrin said she is “90% of the way there” with the speed disciplines, largely because of the extra time she spent in the gym. She suffered a knee injury last December that kept her out two months. Told to stay off her skis, Shiffrin focused on lifting weights.
“I’ve never been this strong,” said Shiffrin, who is “100% healthy” and not planning on wearing a knee brace this season. “Not that it is ideal to have to do conditioning in the middle of the winter, but I feel like that gave me a little bit of a head start for the summer conditioning months.”
To get the final “10% of the way there,” Shiffrin believes she needs to become more familiar with the terrain at speed races.
“For most of the annual spots where the girls ski every single year, I haven’t raced or even seen those hills,” Shiffrin said. “That’s where my confidence falters a little bit.”
Since the technical disciplines remain Shiffrin’s top priority, she will only enter speed races when it fits in her schedule. For example, she is undecided about racing in the season-opening speed event in Lake Louise, where downhill training starts just two days after a slalom race in Killington.
“I don’t want to sacrifice anything in Killington because I am stressed about getting to Lake Louise for the first training runs,” she said.
Shiffrin’s third priority is to contend for the overall World Cup title. To do so, she will need to “perform better than I ever have in every single [technical] race” and then get “bonus points” by performing well in super-G and downhill.
“I won’t know where I stand with the overall [crystal] globe until at least mid-season,” she said. “If I’m close, then maybe it will become more of a priority.”
The competition for the overall World Cup title is expected to be tougher this season than in 2015-2016, when Shiffrin believes “it definitely would have been possible” to challenge for the overall World Cup title had she not gotten injured.
Anna Veith and Lindsey Vonn are expected to return from injuries, along with the possible return from break of Tina Maze, to challenge last season’s World Cup overall champion, Lara Gut.
“Everybody is back,” Shiffrin said.
Vonn wrote on social media last month that she is not going for the World Cup overall title, but Shiffrin is not ruling her out.
“[Vonn] is going to be in contention for the overall as well, whether or not that is her goal,” Shiffrin said. “That is similar to where I’m at. It’s not my main goal, but it’s very possible that if I perform how I hope to in each event, it will be there.”
Vonn is known as the “Speed Queen,” with eight downhill and five super-G World Cup titles. But Shiffrin has not asked Vonn for advice about the speed disciplines, preferring to simply watch Vonn ski.
“That is advice enough,” Shiffrin said. “She doesn’t need to tell me anything.”
The World Cup season starts Oct. 22 in Soelden. The anticipation reminds Shiffrin of when she made her World Cup debut in 2011 at the age of 15.
“I was starting to feel like a veteran on slalom and getting there in giant slalom,” Shiffrin said. “But now that I’m starting to add more speed, I’m back to being the rookie again.”
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