By Peggy Shinn | Nov. 24, 2018, 2:42 p.m. (ET)
Mikaela Shiffrin competes at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Nov. 26, 2017 in Killington, Vt.

 

KILLINGTON, Vt.— Mikaela Shiffrin is more relaxed this year, enjoying the ride — and the skiing — even when she misses the podium.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist laid down an impressive second run at the Killington World Cup giant slalom. But it was not enough to move onto the podium.

Sixth after the first run, Shiffrin climbed to fourth, 0.99 seconds behind winner Federica Brignone from Italy, and 0.21 from the podium.

On what many of the racers called “hero snow,” Brignone attacked the course both runs, finishing with a combined time of 1:51.33. It was the Italian’s second world cup giant slalom podium of the season; she finished in the season-opening world cup in Soelden, Austria, a month ago. Impressive, given that she injured her left knee training super-G in early August.

Olympic giant slalom silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel from Norway couldn’t quite hang on to her first-run lead, finishing in second place (1:51.82). Stephanie Brunner from Austria climbed on to her first world cup podium in third (1:52.11).

But unlike previous years, Shiffrin, now 23, did not appear to beat herself up after her slow (for her) first run. She was even happy with her skiing, just not with the intensity.

“Watching some of the other girls come down after I went, they were skiing like they want it, and I want it too, but I was enjoying it too much,” Shiffrin said with a laugh.

Before the second run, she told herself to go straighter and ski harder. She nailed a tricky roll coming onto Preston’s Pitch — the steep race to the finish. It was a roll that launched more than one racer off her line (or off the course), including last year’s Killington winner Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.

It was the first time since the PyeongChang Olympic slalom that Shiffrin has missed the podium. After the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, she ended the world cup season with two wins and a third place in a giant slalom — three of 20 total podium finishes last season, including two Olympic medals. In all, Shiffrin won 12 world cup races last season and claimed her second straight overall world cup title and fifth slalom title.

This season, Shiffrin finished third in the Soelden giant slalom and won the slalom in Levi, Finland, last weekend. With fourth in the Killington giant slalom, she maintained her overall world cup lead.

Shiffrin has carried that momentum into the 2019 season. But she has also brought a new more laid-back attitude. While in the past, the home crowd at Killington has made Shiffrin nervous, this year, she reveled in the cheering.

“Racing at home, it’s just an amazing atmosphere,” she said Friday night. “It’s not adding pressure, it’s adding energy.”

Shiffrin also enjoyed her off-season more than in the past. She vacationed in the Caribbean with her boyfriend and attended the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, as well as the French Open.

“The point that I am in life is great,” she told Ski Racing Magazine this summer. “But if it was two years ago I probably would have said ‘no (to Cannes and the French Open), I have to be home and do my workout program and I can’t travel during that time and I can’t do that extra media.’

“But, I’m starting to take advantage of those opportunities now because they’re things I would love to do and I would have done (in the past) in a heartbeat if I had not always had that nagging thought that by doing something fun like going to the French Open I’m not doing my job.”

Shiffrin has also learned that her fellow world cup competitors are her friends. While on vacation this summer, she ran into France’s Tessa Worley, who won the Soelden giant slalom and finished fifth in Killington.

The two women did not speak much about skiing, said Worley. They just relaxed and got to know one another.

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For Shiffrin, the time getting to know Worley as a friend has helped her stay more relaxed. When she first started racing on the world cup, Shiffrin thought she had to maintain an aura of toughness —“I have to look tough and I have to try to be stronger than they are, so when I’m in the starting gate, I can be a really good competitor, and I can be the one who is on the top.” Shiffrin did not think that she could be friends with the enemy.

Slowly, her perception has changed. 

“With Tessa this summer on vacation, it was another lesson I learned,” said Shiffrin. “We’re all pretty much the same. We like to take a break, we like to chill out, we like to of course work hard. But it was amazing to be just normal people and forget about the competitor and forget about the skiing.”

But on a sunny day in Vermont, with 18,500 fans cheering, Shiffrin was a true competitor, overcoming any first-run disappointment with a smile and her usual determination. 

“It’s feeling really good this year,” she said. “I haven’t had nerves I’d say, just excitement for each race. Being here has been very special because I’m not feeling so much pressure. I’m excited to race, and that’s a really nice place to be.”

The women will race in the Killington World Cup slalom tomorrow — an event Shiffrin has never lost.

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.