It’s becoming difficult to keep track of all the records Mikaela Shiffrin is breaking.
She finished second in her race on Wednesday, capturing a silver medal at the Alpine world championships in France in the super-G, which is probably her fourth best of the five Alpine disciplines.
No matter. Another day, another mountain, another race, and some more records for Shiffrin, the 27-year-old American who has been making headlines on the slopes since she was in her early teens.
“I’ve kind of accomplished every wish I’ve ever had in terms of world championships and medals,” Shiffrin said over the weekend, before the racing started.
With her silver medal Wednesday, Shiffrin’s success at the biggest skiing meet outside the Olympics is moving into rarefied territory.
The world championships are a biennial Olympic-style ski meet, and skiers covet its medals as much as anything in the sport short of Olympic hardware.
The whole purpose of the world championships, she said, is to ski as hard as possible and to “go for gold.” She added, “At the end of the day, you hope it’s good enough to win a medal.”
With Shiffrin, it usually is.
So what exactly happened Wednesday?
Shiffrin finished second in the second women’s race on the schedule at the Alpine world championships in Méribel, France.
Shiffrin is usually pretty effusive when she wins a ski race, but never more so than when she reaches the podium in super-G, a speed event that has significantly more twists and turns than the downhill and allows her to bring her talents as a technical skier who specializes in slalom racing to steeper terrain.
When Shiffrin gets onto the podium on super-G, she generally describes about how fun it was to ski the racecourse, and Wednesday was no different.
“I’m so happy with my run, and emotional, because I don’t really feel like I should be winning a medal in super-G right now,” she said after the race. “There are so many women so strong and so fast. There was one moment where I thought I lost everything, but then I could keep it rolling until the finish.”
Indeed, Shiffrin was ahead of the eventual winner, Marta Bassino of Italy, at the second split, but had to battle through the tough, more technical, second part of the course. She finished 11-hundredths of a second behind Bassino.
The silver medal was Shiffrin’s 12th career medal at the world championships. She is the first woman in the modern era to accumulate that many individual world championship medals. She won her first a decade ago in Austria when she was 17. It was her 12th medal in just 15 starts at the world championships.
How does this play into her pursuit of other records?
In January, Shiffrin broke Lindsey Vonn’s record for the most World Cup wins by a female skier, capturing her 83rd victory on Alpine skiing’s top circuit. Then she won two more races in quick succession, putting her one short of Ingemar Stenmark’s overall record.
But the skiing calendar put the pursuit of Stenmark on hold until March. For the next two weeks, Shiffrin and other top skiers are competing in the world championships.
World championship races are separate from the World Cup races, which are the regular tour stops that take place throughout the winter across North America, Europe and sometimes Asia. The World Cup determines the best overall skier across all events and the best skier in each discipline. Winners receive crystal globes. Shiffrin has a lot of those — 13 so far, with more on the way at the end of this season.
“It’s been such an insane, amazing season,” she said Monday, when things were not so amazing.
How are the world championships going so far?
Shiffrin got off to a rough start. In the first event, the Alpine combined, which includes one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom, Shiffrin appeared to be headed for a come-from-behind win at the bottom of the slalom hill.
Shiffrin had skied the sixth-fastest super-G run, but that left her 96-hundredths of a second behind the leader, Federica Brignone of Italy, forcing her to ski aggressively during a high-risk, high-reward slalom. She made up time at each split, and the computer simulations projected her taking a lead by as much as three-10ths of a second.
But as she tried to navigate over a rough patch of snow about five gates from the finish, Shiffrin lost her balance and ended up straddling one of the next gates. That disqualified her from the competition. She said Wednesday that she learned in the combined that she was going to have to ski aggressively from the start in the super-G if she wanted to have a chance at the podium.
The bobble had echoes of the series of slips and skids during the Beijing Olympics last year, when Shiffrin failed to finish three individual events and was far off the podium in two others.
Shiffrin knew the questions would be coming.
“I was thinking I was going to go through the mixed zone and everyone is going to ask if this is Beijing again,” she said, but that was the price she knew she might have to pay for the “full-gas skiing” that taking the lead was going to require.
“I’m not afraid of the consequences,” she said.
The downhill is scheduled for Saturday. Shiffrin has a love-sort-of-hate relationship with the event. She has three first-place finishes in her career in World Cup downhill races, but she has never won a medal in the Olympics or the world championships in the event.
Next week brings the slalom and giant slalom races, the events that Shiffrin dominates. Fifty-two of her 85 World Cup victories have come in slalom, with giant slalom accounting for another 19 wins. Shiffrin said that until that slip on Monday she was feeling very good about her slalom skiing. It was aggressive and fearless, and the only thing she did not do was cross the finish line.
What else deserves attention?
The men’s downhill, scheduled for Sunday, usually has plenty of fireworks. The favorite is Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, who happens to also be Shiffrin’s boyfriend.
Even though they have the same job, Kilde and Shiffrin don’t see each other all that much because the men and women rarely race on the same mountain at the same time. Usually that changes with the world championships, but this year the women are in Méribel and the men are in Courchevel, about 35 minutes away. Shiffrin said that skiing’s first couple got in a little quality time before the world championships but that racing was their focus for the next two weeks.
Kilde’s biggest competition could come from Marco Odermatt of Switzerland. Odermatt is third in the season rankings in downhill but first in super-G and third in giant slalom.
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