Mikaela Shiffrin Kicks Off New Season, Motivated for Record-Tying, Sixth Overall World Cup Title
by Brian Pinelli
Mikaela Shiffrin will enter the start house high above the Austrian Tyrol village of Sölden on Saturday morning, as motivated as ever to ski at the supreme level that everyone has become so accustomed to expect.
Starting her 13th FIS World Cup season and 250th career race – the traditional season-opening giant slalom on the Rettenbach Glacier – Shiffrin has never been one to relish talk of chasing records, despite being peppered by journalists all of last season. Perhaps a bit cliché, but Shiffrin lets her skiing do the talking. Lindsey Vonn’s mark of 82 career world cup wins: check. Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 victories. Mission accomplished.
However, Shiffrin readily admitted on Thursday that equaling the longstanding mark of six overall world cup titles, accomplished by Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proell in the 1970s, would be her greatest career achievement to date.
“If I am able to match her six overall titles, that would probably be the biggest accomplishment - everybody gets to have their own opinion, but personally that has been one of biggest goals and would be my biggest accomplishment,” Shiffrin told journalists during a news conference in Sölden.
“I don’t talk much about results, but that would be insane,” she added.
At 28 years old, the U.S. ski racing phenom from Colorado has accomplished virtually everything there is to accomplish in alpine skiing: 88 world cup victories, 15 crystal globes, two Olympic gold medals and an incredible world championships medal tally that includes seven wins and 14 podiums in 17 starts. She has charged to five overall titles over the past seven seasons. Equaling Moser-Proell at the top would be even sweeter icing on the cake.
Moser-Proell captured her six titles across an 11-season career, including five straight between 1971-1975. The Austrian retired at the young age of 26 after winning downhill gold at the Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1980.
Shiffrin recalls an inspiring meeting with Moser-Proell at a slalom race in Austria, some years ago.
“At the time, I wasn’t a threat or near any of her records and stats. I might have been around 50 wins and Annemarie said to me ‘just go for it and you’re going to pass me’ – it was pretty striking to me that her mind was already there at a time that nobody else’s was.
“That was kind of wild and a pretty cool experience. She is a complete trailblazer in skiing.”
Moser-Proell – who turned age 70 in March – praised Shiffrin after the American ski racing superstar easily captured his fifth overall title last season.
“Mikaela is such a perfect skier that there is no limit to what she can do if she says healthy,” Moser-Proell told Austrian media.
Considering Shiffrin’s astounding record-breaking, 2206-point season last winter – a staggering total accumulated through 14 wins and 18 podiums across 31 starts, it’s hard to bet against her attaining number six this season, and her third consecutive. Shiffrin says she has no intention of letting her foot off the gas, possibly even adding more super-Gs this season.
“Everyone was wondering if I was going to lose motivation (after last season), but I was like, ‘Why should I lose motivation?’ after accomplishing something I never set out to accomplish,” Shiffrin’s says, referring to breaking Vonn and Stenmark’s records. “As opposed to the overall globe which was something I was shooting for.
“If anything, that just makes me want to fight more this year and be in the running for the overall globe again because season titles have always been my biggest goals.”
Sports fans hoping for a dramatic finish last season, needed to turn elsewhere as Shiffrin easily outdistanced her nearest challenger, Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland, by 989 world cup points. Third-place finisher Petra Vlhova of Slovakia trailed 1,081 behind.
Standing at 88 world cup victories, the seemingly impossible magic number of 100 now appears within Shiffrin’s reach. Including last season’s 14 triumphs, Shiffrin has raced to 12 or more wins in a season three times.
Shiffrin informed that she has not felt 100 percent, fighting some sort of bug, over months leading up to the new season.
“In Chile, I got food poisoning and then went home and got really sick,” Shiffrin says, referring to a September training camp in Portillo. “I’m not sure what it was – I tested negative for COVID, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
“It basically took me out for a week-and-a-half, and then I traveled Europe and wasn’t able to do any conditioning work. It was pretty terrible timing.”
As a result, Shiffrin says that she would be okay with a slow and steady progression into the 2023-24 season. The three-time Olympian has two victories and six podium finishes across nine GS starts in Sölden. She won in 2021 and 2014, while last season’s race was canceled due to uncooperative weather and unsafe conditions.
“With this period on snow, I’m still getting back to my 100-percent level strength and conditioning from the couple weeks of sickness, but overall, I think it was a really good summer.”
Shiffrin launches the 2023-24 campaign alongside a new coach, Karin Harjo. She parted ways with her former coach, Mike Day, at last February’s world championships in France.
“It’s been really positive and as seamless of a transition as I could hope for – from somebody I care deeply about and have really enjoyed working with over the past seven years,” Shiffrin says, referring to Day. “I feel really lucky with this transition I’m super excited that Karin has taken the charge in such a positive way.”
Shiffrin is entering a different mindset heading into the season-opener in Austria and beyond.
“I’m trying to take a little bit more of an approach of giving myself time to build into my best form,” she says. “If I feel amazing on Saturday, I’ll take it, I’m not going to complain about that, but getting into the race season is always a little bit strange – like learning how to walk or swim again.
“The skiing is not the problem – it’s everything else that you have to do again. So, I’m trying to take a relaxed approach and give myself my best shot at skiing well.”
Shiffrin will be fervently supported at the Austrian race by her predominantly European-based fan club. Fifteen of 50 members will be present, including representatives from Austria, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the U.S.
They will dress up in red, white and blue superhero costumes at the annual Friday fan club parade and shout their loudest for Mikaela at Saturday’s GS race.
Gina Salevsky, 24, of Germany is among Shiffrin’s fan club leaders.
“For us, it’s not about Mikaela’s records and numbers, we support her because she’s a kind, down-to-earth person,” Salevsky tells Team USA. “We show her our unconditional support because she’s the best role model we could ever ask for.
“Of course, last season was emotional and we’re very proud of her, but we will support her in good days and bad. We are excited and simply can’t wait to cheer for her again in Soelden.”