KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin knows how to make a tough weekend look easy. She rallied from feeling “really bad” this morning to earn her 22nd world cup win, a slalom on Killington’s Superstar trail.
Usually calm and collected when she finishes a slalom — even after an Olympic or world championship win — Shiffrin pumped her fists and looked relieved after crossing the finish line with the win.
She woke up this morning and had a bad feeling about the day. Her thoughts did not improve as the morning progressed.
“I went through moments today where I was like maybe I should just not do this because I was so worked up and nervous and worried about all the wrong things,” she said. “It wasn’t very enjoyable until the second run.”
Even without putting her best skiing on the hill, Shiffrin’s two-run time of 1:27.95 was 0.73 seconds ahead of Veronika Velez Zuzulova from Slovakia and 0.86 ahead of Wendy Holdener from Switzerland.
It was Shiffrin’s 10th straight win in world cup slaloms that she has entered — a record that ties her with Janica Kostelic from Croatia, who won 10 slaloms between December 1999 and February 2001. Shiffrin’s slalom streak began on Feb. 22, 2015, in the Maribor World Cup slalom, held on a trail like Superstar. Then she had to take two months off last winter after injuring her knee. Since her return, she has won every world cup slalom on the tour (six and counting).
The slalom concluded an emotional weekend for Shiffrin, 21, who was racing in Vermont for the first time since she was a freshman at Burke Mountain Academy competing in a Northern Vermont Council slalom against her teenage peers. The Killington World Cup is the first world cup on the East Coast in 25 years and the first in Vermont in 38 years.
Since Shiffrin started racing on the world cup in 2011, she has won two world championships, an Olympic gold medal and three overall world cup slalom titles.
But she finished a disappointing fifth in the Killington giant slalom yesterday. Then had a confidence crisis this morning.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, and knowing that I’ve been performing so well in slalom, I knew I had a great chance in slalom here,” she said. “I actually really wanted to win the GS as well, but I didn’t put winning GS skiing out there yesterday. I was bummed about that.”
Her flagging confidence was fueled in part by questions after she won the slalom in Levi, Finland, two weeks ago. In previous years, Shiffrin has won slaloms by 2+-second margins. But in Levi, she won by 0.67 seconds, and several people asked her what happened, what went wrong?
Those questions angered her and also planted seeds of doubt.
“I’m not the most confident person,” she admitted. “I tend to have a lot of self-doubt. I’m also generally a really happy person. Sometimes these races, they get to me. I feel like I have to be something special or something different or get somebody else’s approval, get the crowd’s approval, or the media’s approval.”
In front of her family and friends, she tried to make the choice that she did not need anyone’s approval but her own, that her truly best skiing would come out if she stopped trying to garner the approval of others. And she hoped that this message would carry over to the thousands of young girls who came to Killington to watch her ski.
“That’s the thing that I’ve always seen in the East Coast,” she said. “It’s like I don’t care. I don’t care what you think about me. I’m doing my thing, and I’m a happy person. I love that, and it’s a perfect time to be back here racing and getting that freshness. Hopefully, I can take that with me.”
Mostly she was thrilled that her Nana — Pauline Condron, her maternal grandmother who lives in Massachusetts — could watch her race.
“The best part about it is she doesn't care if I win or lose,” said Shiffrin. “She might not even remember. Thank you, Nana, for your unconditional love and your incredible pies.”
Shiffrin also knows that her competitors — Zuzulova, Holdener and the rest of the women on the start list — are there to beat her. And she did not expect her large winning margins to hold.
Holdener agreed that Shiffrin still dominates slaloms. But the Swiss skier said she is gaining confidence with each race and is getting closer.
“It will get thrilling this season,” Holdener predicted.
From the spectators’ viewpoint, it was difficult to tell that Shiffrin wasn’t skiing her best. First run, she did not tear through the slalom gates as much as float through them. Both Zuzulova and Holdener were ahead of Shiffrin in the first two splits of the first run. But Shiffrin nailed the final 17 gates — a series of combinations on the final steep pitch. She danced through the gates as if it were a game to see who could spend the least amount of time on edge.
“I tried to really pay attention to the bottom of the course because of all the combinations down there, and it stacks up,” she said after the first run. “I tried to keep attacking down there. It’s a short course. It’s a sprint. You’re not tired by the bottom, or I wasn’t. That’s my advantage is when everybody else gets tired and I can still pull away.”
Second run, Shiffrin attacked and gained on her lead even after an uncharacteristic bobble on the final pitch, crossing the line for her 21st world cup slalom win and 22nd win across all disciplines.
Shiffrin has finished on the podium in every slalom that she has entered for the past two years — for a total of 13.
Of the 43 world cup slalom races that she has competed in, she has finished on the podium in 25, or 58 percent of the time. By comparison, Marlies Schild, the Austrian skier who competed from 2001-2014 and has won more world cup slalom races than any other woman (35), finished on the podium in 57 percent of the time.
But for Shiffrin, the records and stats are not important. She feels that if she ever matched Schild with 35 world cup wins, that it would take something away from what the Austrian accomplished.
“[Marlies] was my inspiration, she was my biggest idol,” said Shiffrin. “I still watch her slalom skiing. I don’t want to take anything away from that. The records are fun to look at, and it’s cool to set records. That’s not the important thing to me.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.