Alpine Skiing

Mikaela Shiffrin keeps expectations "really low" ahead of World Cup return

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Shiffrin will race the slalom at Levi in Finland after a 300-day absence triggered by the death of her father.

By Ken Browne ·

She’s back.

After a gap of 300 days, Mikaela Shiffrin will return to the alpine skiing World Cup at Levi on Saturday (21 November) after sitting out the season opener in Soelden with back iss iss.

The American returns to a happy hunting ground, claiming her fourth victory at the Finnish venue and winning her fourth reindeer.

This has been a particularly difficult year for Shiffrin who lost her father Jeff in early February before disruption caused by Covid-19 stopped her returning to the circuit as planned.

And she admits she isn’t sure what to expect.

Shiffrin said on Thursday, “Hopefully it is a positive experience, and I don’t mean, ‘Hopefully I win,’ But hopefully it is a positive experience to be a ski racer, still, and hopefully that will be the driving force."

The double Olympic champion will race the slalom event after the longest break in her decorated, decade-long World Cup career.

She added, “It didn’t really feel it was that long of a break. This spring, summer, fall, this period since I last raced has been the busiest, most stressful time of my life.

"I feel like racing is actually going to be like going on a vacation. Right now, I am just so grateful to be here.” - Mikaela Shiffrin

"Incredibly angry"

Levi will be the superstar’s first race since 26 January at the Bansko Super-G in Bulgaria where she picked up her 66th career World Cup win.

But a week after that race in Bulgaria, her father Jeff died in an accident at home leaving Mikaela devastated.

She took five weeks off to grieve and be with family before attempting a comeback in Sweden.

But the event was cancelled due to coronavirus measures with Federica Brignone having already overtaken her in the overall World Cup standings and declared champion with the season ending early.

Reflecting on those events, Shiffrin said, "After several weeks at home, I felt like skiing would be therapeutic. If possible, I wanted to try to race before the end of the season. But we got to Sweden and we tried, and I was like ready to step into the starting gate. Even if it was cancelled, that was a really big step."

Shiffrin also missed out on the slalom Crystal Globe to Petra Vlhova, but she says the anger she feels right now is nothing to do with losing her titles.

“It's not about settling scores,” she insists.

“I am incredibly angry, but not about the way last season ended. I am angry that my dad died, I am angry how lonely I feel most days.

“But on the flip side, I am incredibly grateful that I have my mom here with me so often. I have never been a person to be motivated by anger.

"If I learned something over the last 300 days, it is that you really have to take what life serves you. It might not taste good, but you have to eat it anyway."

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“I try to keep expectations really low”

But having missed out on Soelden with back issues, Shiffrin hasn't had a huge amount of time to train.

“I haven’t got a whole lot of training in,” she said. “I have only been able to train slalom with the back injury. We narrowed the focus down and did one hour at a time.”

“I try to keep expectations really low,” she said. “But my standards for the level of skiing that I want to bring are high. I want to ski well, which includes skiing fast.”

Shiffrin has 43 wins in slalom, the most of anyone, male or female, in the history of the sport. But records are not on her mind right now.

“No matter what, if I ski well, if I put in a good effort but it doesn’t go as I hoped, it is hard to be disappointed with that after everything."

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Speaking to Olympic Channel four weeks ago, Shiffrin said that she was keen to return to competition having considered her future in the sport.

"This year – especially this summer and the process of getting our feet back under us – has opened my eyes to so much more than ski racing.Shiffrin said in an emotional Instagram live interview.

"At the same time it's kind of solidified my motivation that I want to get back to the sport."

"I don't want to end my career as a ski racer on this note of having to step away from the sport because of a family tragedy."

Shiffrin's stellar record

A prodigious talent, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut at just 15 years old and became the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history when she took gold at Sochi 2014 aged 18 years and 345 days.

Four years later she won the giant slalom at PyeongChang 2018 to become her nation’s joint most successful alpine skier ever with Ted Ligety and Andrea Mead Lawrence, before adding silver in the combined event.

She is the only athlete to have ever won in all six Alpine Ski World Cup disciplines, including the parallel slalom, and at 23 years and nine months became the youngest skier to rack up 50 World Cup wins.

Her 66th career win in Bansko in January leaves her just one off the legendary Marcel Hirscher who sits in in fourth position on the all-time winning list.

Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark is in top spot with 86 victories, but the Swedish great believes Shiffrin can win more than 100.

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