Snow queen Mikaela Shiffrin seeks to deliver on promise of golden haul at the Winter Olympics

MATT MAJENDIE
Force of nature | Mikaela Shiffrin won slalom gold in 2014 as an 18-year-old and after claiming the overall World Cup title in 2017 is set to dominate in Pyeongchang: AFP/Getty Images

It was the morning after the night before when Mikaela Shiffrin confidently declared after her first Olympic gold that her target at the next Games was to drape five gold medals around her neck.

It was in part the impetuousness of youth from the 18-year-old but also acted as a snapshot of the drive and determination of the American skier, who looks likely to be one of the stars of Pyeongchang.

For five, read three as the more realistic aim in Korea, Shiffrin targeting retaining her slalom title, adding the giant slalom and combined, and potentially the Super-G.

Yet, four years on, she has no great regrets that she made such remarks. “I said that some time in the morning when I was tired after all the things I had to do but, at the same time, I believe in my ability and have a team around me that believes in my ability,” she says.

“And that allows me to stand behind that statement even if it was almost ignorant in a way.”

Still only 22, Shiffrin is already in the seventh World Cup season of her career. When she started on the circuit, unlike the rest of her rivals she still had maths and English homework to contend with at the end of a race.

On the slopes, she is a force of nature. Technically one of the best skiers in the world, her skills have to be honed by hours and hours of practice, a quest for the flawless turn that her team have likened to a surfer’s search for the perfect wave.

She has set the benchmark for slalom skiing in particular, winning that particular World Cup title four times and her dominance is such that at times she has won events by three seconds, in the process beating a half-a-century old record.

However, her Pyeongchang ambitions are far loftier than simply one discipline. “I won slalom, giant slalom and combined last year and my best result in the Super-G was fourth place last year in Cortina but I only skied four Super-G on the World Cup tour,” she says. “But when I am in the start gate I want to win or at least have a shot at a medal every time. So, I hope I can win some in Korea.”

So, what of her previous comments about the five golds? “There’s a lot left to achieve,” she says. “A big goal of mine is to win races in every event and, yes, winning in each discipline in a season is a big goal.”

In her quest to be the snow queen, once again no stone has been left unturned. Successful pre-season training camps in Chile, Austria and Val Senales have left Shiffrin “physically stronger than ever”.

And for the first time she trained on snow indoors along with British slalom specialist Dave Ryding.

The novelty of doing that appealed to Shiffrin’s mind set: “It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. We were sleeping, eating and skiing all in the same building. You walked outside and it was summer and you go back in for winter, which was totally backwards.

“It was strange but actually cool - really productive.”

Having seen Ryding ski at close hand, she is confident the Briton can make his mark and pick up a rare piece of silverware for Britain on the slopes at the Olympics.

“He showed in Kitzbühel that he can ski onto the podium so he can do that in Korea as well, no doubt,” she says.

For Shiffrin, there is pressure and expectation in the United States, the wider skiing community and, perhaps most pertinently, from herself. The competitor who once turned up on the slopes without butterflies was last season twice sick on the mountain before a race because of nerves.

That allied to the brutal workouts she shares on social media, is there ever a danger she might suffer burnout?

“It sure is a lot sometimes but I have a great team around me that also protects me and we are always trying to find the right balance,” she says.

On the evidence of last season and a first overall World Cup title - what Shiffrin refers to as “the biggest thing you can achieve as a ski racer” - that balancing act is clearly working.

Quite what medal haul it produces in Korea is another matter.

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