Shiffrin defends slalom title at World Champs
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — The lady does have a flair for the dramatic.
Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin needed every bit of the last portion of the 2,099-foot women’s slalom course to pull out gold on Saturday at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek.
Shiffrin had a 0.40-second first-run lead over Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, but a good run by the current World Cup leader preceding Shiffrin essentially erased that margin. Shiffrin was 4-hundredths of a second behind Hansdotter at the first time interval and 3-hundredths back heading into The Abyss and the face of Redtail. Yet Shiffrin somehow found time in the final stretch, pulling away from Hansdotter by 34-hundredths with the Czech Republic’s Sarka Strachova earning bronze.
“Why did you ski slow at the start,” Eileen Shiffrin, Mikaela’s mom, joked at the post-race news conference.
“I was so worried that I was going to screw it up,” Mikaela said. “I was telling myself I wasn’t feeling pressure, that I’m going to go out and make my best turns and it’s going to be fine even if I don’t get the gold. Then I’m in the starting gate going, ‘God, I want this.’ It’s a mental battle with myself for how much to push. Hopefully, at some point in my career, I can charge top to bottom no matter what.”
Her career to date is pretty darn good. Shiffrin, 19 and turning 20 next month, defended her world title in the slalom, having won her first Championships gold back in Schladming, Austria, in 2013. It’s also her third “major” medal with her Olympic gold in the discipline in Sochi, Russia, last year. Since World Cup statistics are independent of the Olympics and Worlds, she also has 12 World Cup wins and two World Cup slalom titles to her name.
Shiffrin appeared unemotional at the finish line with her time in green lights and a capacity crowd going bananas.
“I put a ton of energy out there, especially on that last third of the course, making sure every turn was spot on,” Shiffrin said. “I had no energy in the finish. It’s always a little awkward. I feel like all the best racers had an epic finish celebration. Ted (Ligety) throws his ski. Lindsey (Vonn) falls on the ground. (Tina) Maze puts her finger in the air. How about if I do something epic? Then I get to the finish, and I’m like, ‘Hi. I’m kind of a dork.’ I don’t want to show that side of myself. I’m not that great at showing my emotions. Guess I have to work on that.”
Not a dork
Shiffrin, most assuredly, is not a dork, or everyone who roots for American ski racing would like to be a dork like her, however that works. Despite Ligety’s win in men’s giant slalom on Friday, Shiffrin faced a ton of pressure to produce on Saturday.
As the wait increased for the second run of the slalom, the finish stadium’s big screen showed Shiffrin at the top of the hill, looking like she was napping. In fact, she had gotten her regular daily nap earlier between runs.
“Yes, in fact, I am half a bear,” Shiffrin joked. “It’s so hot today. If it’s too cold or too hot, it effects my energy. I was saving my energy for the second run.”
Hence she lay in the snow with the appearance of cool. Yet she was feeling the pressure.
“One of my motivating factors is not to be an example like used in Choke or Mindset,” said Shiffrin, referring to psychology books she’s read. “They always use examples of athletes that choked. It’s like, maybe, they didn’t choke. It’s a goal to not be used as an example. I’ve been lucky so far with how well all these big events are going. Pressure is what you make it. If you work hard enough, prepare hard enough, you can still perform. Ted proved it yesterday, I proved it today. Frida proves it every single race.”
Mancuso 26th in GS
In Thursday’s giant slalom, Shiffrin was the top American racer with an eighth-place finish, while Vonn placed 14th, Julia Mancuso was 26th and Megan McJames 34th.
The giant slalom was the last race of the Championships for Mancuso, who said she plans to either find some powder skiing or head to her Maui home to rest for a few days before returning to the World Cup circuit.
“It was definitely a lot of fun competing. I didn’t have the best results, but I had a lot of fun watching the other athletes compete,” she said. “When you cross the finish line, you always have that moment of your own expectations, but I’ve been able to also just be a fan and watch the other girls perform.”
Chris Freud is sports editor at the Vail Daily, the Sun’s sister paper in Colorado. He can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.