Mikaela Shiffrin looking for the ‘zone’

23 November 2012 21:27
Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin -

Crowds like seeing established champions celebrating ‘big’ victories– yet the public also enjoys watching young and sometimes reckless racers beating the odds and the favorites on their way up to the top.  In December 2011, USA’s teenager Mikaela Shiffrin accomplished one of these stunning performances at Lienz, in Austria, where she came in 3rd despite starting the first run in 40th position! She repeated that performance this month at Levi, Finland, in the first slalom of the 2013 season that she ended in 3rd place with bib 18!

The skier from Vail, Colorado, whose coolness and smooth smile remembers a lot Austria’s former superstar Petra Kronberger, a triple Overall World Cup champion in the early 1990s, was pretty proud in both cases to stand on the podium next to role-models like Marlies Schild, who she admires as much as Croatia’s Janica Kostelic, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch or Finland’s veteran Tanja Poutiainen, for sure three of the most established slalom specialists on the tour. “It was really something special to be standing on those podiums aside of Marlies so great athletes,” Mikaela said afterwards. “I was very as happy as proud in both occasions,” she also said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it often happened that 16-year-olds celebrated major wins, like France’s Marielle Goitschel, combined World Champion at Chamonix in 1962, or Canada’s Betsy Clifford, the GS World Champion at Val Gardena in 1970. Former German slalom ace Pamela Behr was also 16 when she won her first World Cup slalom at Val d’Isère in 1972. Austria’s ski ski legend Annemarie Moser-Proell was not 16 in January 1969 when she finished 2nd in a World Cup downhill at St Gervais, France, only two tenths of a second behind the winner!

Yet in recent years, the youngsters had a harder time to seriously experienced veterans, as most of the established champions stay longer on the tour now than in the old days when most retired at 24 or so! Interestingly enough, future top-guns as Janica Kostelic or Anja Paerson also managed to shine at a very young age in recent years, winning their first World Cup at 17 or 18! Lara Gut became the youngest Super-G winner at St Moritz two years ago also a few months before turning 18.

A true skiing prodigy

Shiffrin, born March 13th - 1995, has been considered for a long time as a true slalom ‘prodigy’ and the champion to watch beside the ‘usual’ favorites fighting hard for a spot on the podium. She seemed so dedicated and focused that nobody should be really surprised to see her keeping on improving her level in the coming gate months – including in giant slalom. Her 31st place in the recent race of the ‘World Cup Opening’ at Soelden confirmed her potential in that specialty too!

On the Nor-Am circuit, the skier from Vail born on the east coast as Lindsey Vonn, already achieved very encouraging performances in Super-G and giant slalom prior turning 16 ! At the end of her first international season, she captured the slalom Nor-Am title and ended 3rd in giant slalom and qualified for the 2011/2012 World Cup tour.

A bronze medal winner in slalom at the 2011 Junior Worlds in Crans-Montana despite being sick, the American also celebrated an impressive triumph that year in slalom at the US Nationals to become the youngest ever US champion!

In his excellent piece written a year ago on her, Canada’s ski expert Michael Mastarciyan perfectly described Mikaela when he wrote that she was “well-grounded, extremely humble and mature beyond her years” underlining that she was “flattered when compared to US alpine superstars Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn, both of whom also made big ripples at an early age,” yet that she was “quick to say she’s still got tons of work ahead of her if she is to be deserving of such high praise.”

In the interview she gave to him that time, Mikaela also explained what a strong passion she felt when skiing again the clock and moving at her edge!  “…I can take the feeling I’ve gotten from winning a race and being happy and that competitive edge you have and the adrenaline rush that comes out when you’ve won - I can take that feeling and remember what it felt like to win in general and bring that into World Cups or whatever races I’m doing this year,” Shiffrin told him.

Moving in the ‘zone’

At Levi, the teenager also said after the race that it was quite thrilling for her to move in her own ‘zone’ on het ‘Black Levi’ run, explaining that she was often skiing the best when having that feeling to be sort of ‘flying with wings over the snow’ ! Mikaela seems definitely aiming for excitement when cruising down a slope – even though her main goal mostly is to temper her aggressiveness and her trend to go for broke. For sure her strong confidence is one of her main driving forces next to her natural talent.

This perfectly comes out when she says told Mastarciyan: “ I don’t have a fear of failure in skiing. I don’t really want to make a fool of myself, but skiing is something I know by heart and failure isn’t really a concept for me, and it shouldn’t be a concept really for any skier, because you’re out there doing something you love so how can you fail at it if you love it?”

Last season, Mikaela who enjoys traveling on the tour with her mother Eilen, who helps her doing with her studies by correspondence, ended the Overall Standings at the promising 43rd place. It was by far the best among the under-20-age-group! This year, she will for sure be one of the main contenders for the newly created ‘Longines Raising Star’ award given to women under 21 having achieved the best performance in the Overall classification at the Finals in Lenzerheide.