NEW YORK — Mikaela Shiffrin, coming off what she said was the best season of her career (the stats back it up), sat down with OlympicTalk to reflect on last winter and look ahead to next season.
Shiffrin spoke at a Hudson Yards high-rise in Manhattan before an event as a Longines Ambassador to launch a Conquest Classic watch collection. Interview is lightly edited for clarity.
OlympicTalk: Seventeen World Cup wins, two world titles and four crystal globes. Best season of your career?
Shiffrin: Yeah, for sure. As far as every World Cup season goes, I measure my success off of my results. I kind of judge my skiing itself how I’m training, my technique and tactics, but the races are the best checkpoint to see how everything’s going. For sure it was my best season results-wise. I also felt quite a bit more comfortable this season with everything than I have the past few years. I don’t know if it was about coming off of an Olympic season and feeling like I sort of let go of the control I had been trying to grasp onto. I was like, you know what, anything can happen so I might as well try to enjoy this a little bit more.
OlympicTalk: Was the slalom world title, overcoming illness, the most memorable race?
Shiffrin: That’s definitely on the top of the list. I think there’s a few races that I’m going to remember, for sure the final giant slalom race in conjunction with winning the GS globe [for the first time]. My first super-G win. Winning the super-G at world championships as well. The slalom at world championships comes to the top of my head this season, but also in my career. The slalom was big for me because it was pushing through pain at a level that I really hadn’t experienced before. I’m used to pushing through aches and pains and some kind of discomfort, and I’ve raced sick many times, that’s not a problem. But the way that I felt for this race and not being able breathe and all of these pieces.
OlympicTalk: Was that the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career?
Shiffrin: It’s sort of like ranking races. Ranking obstacles is a similar [tough] thing. Probably the struggles that I’ve dealt with anxiety have been more of the most ongoing struggles. This past season has been one of my most enjoyable even with, in some ways, more pressure. I felt like rather than ignoring that pressure I was able to accept it and then deal with it. It’s sort of rather than putting a Band-Aid on a wound, you’re actually just healing it and figuring out a way to accept whatever external forces are going on.
I had to go through several years worrying about what people were saying and what media was saying and what teammates were saying and competitors and everything and family and support. What everybody thought, the worries of disappointing everybody. I had to go through actually disappointing them to realize that it really doesn’t matter. After [finishing fourth in] the slalom at the Olympics was a tough period because winning a gold medal in GS and a silver in the combined, but having most people remember for not winning the gold in the slalom is strange.
There are some athletes that can go compete in the Olympics and turn a bronze medal into the greatest thing ever and people remember them as if they won gold. Then there are some people that can build up the expectations so high, and then anything less Is really a failure in anybody’s book. I walked away knowing that everything that happened, the schedule changes, all of the challenges that I faced, and that Alpine racers faced, thinking this was just an incredible success. Some people maybe disagreed, but you have to go through disappointing people to realize it doesn’t matter. Then this season, I was just doing this for me, right?
OlympicTalk: What does preparation for next season look like?
Shiffrin: When I go to South America [for the first on-snow training] in September, I’ll sit down with my coaches and we’ll look at the schedule, probably through January or February and maybe through the rest of the season and pick and choose which races are the most likely I can do. Then of course everything changes. It’s all up in the air if weather changes, but we try and get an idea of where we’re going to be at the beginning of the season and try and compare to what we did last season. So I’ll say I like this training venue, but I didn’t like traveling the day before the race to Semmering for instance [where Shiffrin was fifth in a giant slalom last December, then won the slalom the next day]. I was exhausted for the race day. I need a day in between to get my feet back under me. Something like that.
OlympicTalk: You had talked for years of a goal to win the giant slalom season title. Now that it’s out of the way, what’s next on your list?
Shiffrin: I don’t think there’s anything more. I’m still here, and I still have the motivation. I’m still willing to suffer in the gym. Go out and train on the hill. If part of me thought if I was like just out here trying to win races or there was some specific result I wanted to achieve, and I achieved it, then my motivation would be gone. I’m always saying I’m not shooting to break records. That’s not the primary focus. Although it’s something that’s motivating and inspirational, it’s not why I started skiing and it’s not why I’m continuing.
This season was almost like a test because breaking all these records, and achieving winning the GS globe, winning the super-G globe — not unexpectedly but in some ways unexpectedly compared to where I thought I would be at the beginning of the season. All these things happened, and I thought, in many ways, what is there left to accomplish? I still always go back to the fact that I feel like I can ski better.
It’s not necessarily winning more races, but it’s seeing if I can manage my schedule better this year. If I can get through the season without getting sick, without getting overtired. How can I work better with my team, with my coaches? There’s a lot of little pieces that can make it run more smoothly. My biggest motivation is seeing how much more precise I can be skiing. This year was so much more fun for me, not just because I had a lot of great races and won globes, but because my GS skiing got to a level that I had almost lost hope that I could ever get to that level.
Hopefully I can keep moving forward with that, and slalom as well. Speed [downhill and super-G] is a whole other beast. It seems like there’s a lot of untapped territory, even though results-wise I accomplished most of what I could really dream of.
OlympicTalk: Will your speed strategy remain the same: enter the first races in Lake Louise in December and then reassess?
Shiffrin: Start with Lake Louise, and then see how things go. But the fact that we don’t have a big event [Olympics, world champs] this season sort of opens up the middle of the season. There’s a stretch in the middle where it looks like there’s going to be a break in tech races for almost one month [in January and February]. If that’s true, then I’ll for sure take some of that time for rest and training, but I might be able to race in some speed races that I would not have otherwise considered.
OlympicTalk: One thing you haven’t accomplished, but have said you hope to, is win races in every discipline in one year. Could that lead you to enter more speed races next season?
Shiffrin: That’s something that I think about. Sitting here, I would say that wouldn’t be a thing that sways my decision, but you never know. It’s sort of like this past season, I wasn’t going to race the super-G at World Cup Finals. Then Sochi was canceled, all this happened, and now I’m in the lead for the super-G globe, so I have to race.
If there’s no reason not to race in a downhill or super-G, and that’s kind of the thing I want to achieve, and there’s a reason to, then I would race. But one of the most important things tot me is to not get greedy with goals like that. It’s a dream. I wouldn’t say it’s a goal. Something I dreamed about when I was little. I looked at Bode Miller, I think he won a race in all events in a single season [Editor’s Note: Miller never got all five disciplines in one season; but Marc Girardelli, Petra Kronberger, Janica Kostelic and Tina Maze have.].
Janica Kostelic won every event in the span of like two weeks or something [Editor’s Note: Kostelic did it from Dec. 21, 2005, to Feb. 6, 2006, leading up to the Torino Olympics]. I was thinking, wow, that was incredible. But the sport has changed since then. Maybe I boil it down to too much statistics. You can easily get sidetracked with those dreams, and then that’s when something hits. That’s when you get overtired and you crash, and these sorts of things happen.
OlympicTalk: Four years ago, you sat down with Ted Ligety in a film session and basically asked him, how do you do what you do? If you could show a younger teammate one of your race runs in a similar session, which would it be?
Shiffrin: When I watch video with my teammates, it depends on what they’re looking for. I do that, actually, bring up races from previous seasons and go over it with the girls, especially the younger girls if it’s their first time at a venue. But that’s more so they can get an idea of the hill.
I guess I would show my GS race from Kronplatz this year. It’s one of the best feelings that I’ve had in a race, especially in GS.The first run I was so fluid. It’s not even so much about the technique, but the mindset that I had and how it translated to my skiing was really cool to me. [Shiffrin had the fastest first run by a whopping 1.39 seconds and won overall by 1.21, her first victory in three visits to the Italian venue.]
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