Vail teen puts it all on the line
Three days past her 18th birthday, Mikaela Shiffrin stood nervously in the finish, watching Slovenian Tina Maze carving down the steep pitch in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Shiffrin’s job was done. Her second run was strong, but she knew she had given up a lot in the first run. A 1.17-second deficit is an eternity in a sport where victory comes in hundredths of a second.
Time ticked by like an eternity. Each interval showed green on the scoreboard, indicating Maze still holding the lead. Finally, Maze crossed the line. The scoreboard flashed red. And the Vail teenager crumbled to the snow, kneeling head in hand, tears flowing.
Little more than a year ago, as a wide-eyed 16-year-old in her first World Cup season, Shiffrin naively set a goal to win the Audi FIS World Cup. Now she had actually done it.
Three Americans walked away from Lenzerheide with crystal globes, which are awarded for World Cup season titles in each discipline. Well, two of them walked away. Lindsey Vonn won her downhill globe in her sleep, recovering from knee surgery in the USA. But her three wins were enough for the title. Park City’s Ted Ligety didn’t need that final win in Lenzerheide, but he got it anyway winning for the sixth time in eight giant slaloms (and finishing on the podium in the other two).
Despite Vonn’s illness and midseason injury and the fact that Bode Miller took the season off to prepare for Sochi, the U.S. Alpine Ski Team turned heads the entire season. Ten U.S. athletes stood on the podium with 18 wins and 33 podiums among them. The women’s downhill team despite two season-ending injuries waltzed away with the nation’s title over Switzerland by more than 400 points with all six athletes on the podium a goal the girls had set together before the season.
With her somewhat unanticipated crystal globe, Vonn vaulted past legendary Annemarie Moser Proell for the most titles (17) by a woman (just two short of Ingemar Stenmark). It was also an unprecedented sixth straight downhill crown.
Ligety, meanwhile, joked that "any day your name is used together with Stenmark is a good day." His dominance in GS harkens back to the 1979 title by Stenmark and the 1982 title by Phil Mahre. His fellow competitors gave him "Run of the Year" for his 2.4-second first-run margin at Alta Badia (how could they NOT?).
Shiffrin’s records are a bit different youngest winner since 1971, first American to win the women’s slalom title since Tamara McKinney in 1984, first non-European woman to win four World Cup slaloms, and on and on. Those records are nice. But what makes Mikaela tick are the goals she sets for herself and the personal passion and knowledge she carries for her sport.
Skiing for a World Cup title is a lot to ask of an 18 year old even a World Champion. An Olympics or World Championship takes place in a single day. The Audi FIS World Cup goes on for five months. But that was her goal.
As she celebrated her birthday Wednesday in Schruns, Austria, with U.S. Ski Team Coach Roland Pfeiffer and her own family, she was excited and confident about the upcoming race. She had handed the season slalom lead back to Tina Maze in Germany a few days earlier. Now it wasn’t a matter of defending her lead. She had to chase Maze down and that meant winning.
Maze went first Saturday morning, Mikaela fifth. She was nervous in the first run, somewhat ragged at times. In the finish, her eyes were glazed and she knew that 1.17 seconds was a lot of time. She sat quietly between runs with her family. They echoed what her coaches told her put it all on the line.
She did just that in the second run, taking the top section to get her rhythm, then destroying the bottom to create a virtual wall of time that no one not even Maze could penetrate.
With tears still on her cheek and a microphone held to her lips, Mikaela Shiffrin addressed her growing legion of fans in the finish, dedicating half of her globe to Maze herself for the inspiration she provided her all season.
Then, with globe and gold in hand, it was on to David Letterman for America’s new ski hero.
NOTE: Park City, stay tuned for an announcement soon on a welcome-home celebration for Ted Ligety at Park City Mountain Resort in early April.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.
The Youth Sports Alliance will host a team scramble golf tournament on June 3 at Victory Ranch in hopes of raising funds for its scholarships and youth programs.