Shiffrin aims for 3rd Olympic gold medal: ‘The best… I’ve ever seen’
Bode Miller remembers seeing Mikaela Shiffrin first ski over a decade ago. She was in her early teens, not yet old enough to compete at the highest level of the sport; he already had a handful of Olympic medals and a pair of overall World Cup titles.
The Americans were training at Golden Peak in Vail, Colorado, and Miller was impressed with the junior across the way. Her slalom style brought to mind Vreni Schneider, a Swiss runner in the 1980s and 1990s who was a three-time Olympic champion.
“Almost like she’s not coming down the hill. There just weren’t the variables that I felt were always present in my skiing, which is that three-dimensional oscillation in all directions. It sounded like she was just moving sideways, just dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut-dut,” Miller said in a phone interview with The Associated Press, mimicking the click of a metronome. “Stay effortlessly in balance.”
Everyone in alpine skiing is keeping tabs on Shiffrin these days, of course, and the rest of the world will at the Beijing Olympics starting Monday, when she’s the defending giant slalom champion.
His accomplishments at age 26 include three Olympic medals (two golds), 11 world championship medals (six golds), three overall World Cup titles and 73 career wins (behind only the 86 by Ingemar Stenmark and 82 by Lindsey Vonn).
“I’m a huge fan,” Miller said. “She’s the best runner I’ve ever seen, male or female.”
“She is physically spectacular as a ski racer with strength and her general physiology. She had the right upbringing. Great support,” said Miller, whose six Olympic medals are tied for the second most in Alpine history. “She just has a lot of gifts to work with. Luckily, she has the intangibles that pair very well with these. His tactical knowledge and his awareness are really solid. She just doesn’t make the same mistakes other people do. And that’s a function of technique, but it’s also just tactics. It’s his approach, his understanding, of how to get from point A to point B fast enough to win without taking undue risk.
Mike Day, in his sixth season as Shiffrin’s head coach with the U.S. Ski Team, recalls his first chance to see her: a slalom at a youth event at the Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine.
“Before that, I had only heard his name and the ‘Mikaela Shiffrin’ lore,” said Day, who worked for a ski company at the time.
“The race is always lively for several reasons. First of all, his skiing was phenomenal for his age. The technical skill and tactical skill were mind-blowing. But the second reason was that she had won the race by 10 or 12 seconds. … I remember saying to a friend of mine on the hill that day, “That girl should be skiing (in) the World Cup next year, definitely,” Day said in a video interview. “I think I was one of millions of people who probably said the same thing.”
What makes Shiffrin successful?
Why does double Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety describe his slalom as “a textbook of ski technique”?
“When Steph Curry shoots a 3 just inside the half court, you’re like, ‘Oooh!’ You and I don’t know what he just did, but it looks like it’s supposed to look, and it went in,” Day said. “It’s just (being) really naturally good at the event, with the timing, the position and the placement of the trick. All of those things are essential, along with a million other things – and she does them all. very good.
It wasn’t until Mikaela was 16 that Eileen Shiffrin first realized her daughter “could be competitive at World Cup level”.
A bit of understatement there.
Mom – who is still a coach – and Patrick Riml, then manager of the US Alpine team, reunited at a training camp in Loveland, Colorado ahead of Mikaela’s first full World Cup season in 2011- 12.
Riml saw Olympic medalist Marlies Schild train a week earlier.
“He really thought Mikaela would be there with her. I was surprised to hear him say that. … We just knew there was a much bigger pond than the one she had swum in up to that point in time. her life,” Eileen wrote in an email to the AP. “Hearing that from Patrick was a little crazy and made us think: Hmmm, maybe she’s really going to do this.”
Eileen thinks how she and her late husband, Jeff, showed Mikaela and her older brother, Taylor, how to ski when kids influence them on the mountain today.
“She was taught from an early age to be very disciplined – for better or for worse. Jeff and I taught Taylor and Mikaela that long before we even considered they could run, mostly for safety on the hill,” Eileen wrote. “But also, Jeff was such a great skier; he wanted to share the joy of carving those beautiful turns he was making. … They developed a similar form.
When Shiffrin took on the sport’s elite, she quickly made an impression.
First World Cup podium at 16; first victory at 17; first Olympic gold medal at age 18.
It is a question of competence, of course, but something else as well.
“You could see immediately that she had talent and that she had something more than ‘normal’ people, than ‘normal’ athletes,” said Italian Marta Bassino, who won the title of the Giant Slalom World Cup last year.
So what makes Shiffrin unique?
USA Alpine Director Jesse Hunt praises her for being “talented, talented” and “a really hard worker” and possessing an enviable “ability to compete”.
Keely Cashman, a Californian making her Winter Games debut, finds Shiffrin “always super calm and poised, which is something I wish I had on race day.” Another first-time Olympian, Colorado’s River Radamus, notes “how graceful she makes it and how easy she makes it.”
Mauro Pini, coach of Petra Vlhova, the Slovak who won the overall World Cup title last season and is second to Shiffrin in the current standings, pondered the question and offered a simple assessment of the American: She doesn’t do anything different. She does it better.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.
More from AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports