Mikaela Shiffrin talks to the U.S. Ski Team following her victory in Are, Sweden. Photo: Getty Images
Hours after electifying the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup tour with a near flawless slalom victory under the lights in Are, Sweden, 17-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin spent some time with Olympic journalists in America. Still bouncing from the win, Shiffrin spoke about her upbringing and how she mentally prepared herself for her first World Cup-winning race.
[on winning in Are] Well, I didn't expect it but I sure hoped for it. I didn't want to be waiting around that long because I'm pretty impatient when it comes to competition but I just tried to stay grounded and focused and work towards this. I knew that a win wouldn't come until I was ready for it, so I was hoping that I was ready.
[on her mother traveling with her] She is with me and she was watching.
Well, it was really hectic when I got to the finish because I had to stay out in the finish area while they were going to do some pictures. I didn't actually see my mom for probably 10 or 15 minutes and I kept seeing her across the fence and I couldn't get to her. It was so exciting and there were all sorts of emotions running through everybody. I finally saw her and it was like I could release some emotion out. I just kind of realized what happened and hearing her say great job and I love you and I'm proud of you—it was just the best thing. That was really when I started to realize that I've worked so hard for this and she's been here the whole time. My father and my whole family has been supporting me and now all of the sudden there's something there that I've worked towards and accomplished it and it's wonderful.
[on what it feels like to win] Oh, gosh what's it feel like? It feels like home. I told one of my friends this actually. In having these accomplishments—making top 30 in GS, winning a slalom today/tonight—it just feels like I'm where I belong and where I want to be and where I need to be. No matter what happens off the hill, when I'm on the hill and I'm skiing like that, I feel like I'm at home and it's hard to find that feeling when you're so far away from home for so long.
The U.S. Ski Team is on fire right now with all the speed girls getting their first World Cup podiums and Steve Nyman just got another win—his second win—he just ripped up the course! I'm just so excited. They kind of stoked the fire, they started the fire and I'm just trying to keep it lit right now. The speed team has a little bit of a break right now but when they come back, I hope they'll be more psyched than ever and I know that I'm psyched going into these next couple tech races.
[on how she used the course to her advantage] When you're skiing down the course, you don't really know what's going on, so all you can do is give it your all. My first run, I felt like it was a really solid run. I put down a solid run and it was fast. I was excited about that. My second run, I knew that Frida Hansdotter was not going to give it away easy. I knew that Tina Maze, who's been on fire this season as well, was going to be gunning for the win. There were a lot of girls out there who were close and it was really fast. They were really fast. It wasn't a course that you could really separate yourself on because it was so straight and fast and all these girls know how to handle that. All I was thinking was that I need to take everything I can get. I'm normally one of the stronger girls in the last 15 to 20 gates and I used that to my advantage today.
I was expecting the course the second run and I kept thinking to myself, "Today's my day. This is it. This is the day." But then I kept thinking well, I've been in this position before where I'm so close you can almost taste the win but then I thought about it too much and gave it away. So, I kept thinking every time any sort of a thought about winning or what the result might be or how the other girls are doing. Anytime that sort of thinking crept into my head, I just pushed it away and I just kept focusing on going as fast as I could go and doing the best that I could do. And thank God I did that or else it might've turned out differently.
[on feeling like today was her day] I guess what I kept telling everybody is that each time, especially in slalom since I haven't really been in this position in GS yet, I'm in a really good spot the first run to hammer the second run and there's a possibility of winning. You know, I've been in this position a couple of times now and gave it away because I was thinking too much about today being my day. But tonight, I just felt like I know how to handle that position now and I know that I need to go as fast as I can the second run. I can't just give it up. I need to fight for it. And I got this feeling like finally, I'm ready. I kept telling everybody, "I won't win until I am ready and I can't tell you when that's going to be, but I hope it's soon." And all of the sudden, I just felt ready. I guess that's how I knew, but there wasn't one specific thing that happened. It's actually been a pretty stressful couple of days and I, for some reason, decided just to put everything away and race like I'm never going to race again and it worked.
[on how Are reminded her of the east coast] You know what's so funny is that being in Are the past couple of days, you know, skiing under the lights, but just in general when we went out for the GS and for the slalom today, when we first got out on the hill, it was still a little bit light and it was so serene and peaceful. I actually felt a little bit like I used to feel when I would go out on Storrs Hill or just train on the east coast. Everything's just so quiet. You really feel like you're getting in touch with nature! I thought that and it really just reminded me of those days that were skiing just for the sake of skiing and then being under the lights was so great. This hill is so much fun. It's just quiet and peaceful nighttime. They have this one hill that just lights up the sky and it definitely reminded me of Storrs Hill. I think that training at Storrs Hill and a little bit at Whaleback Mountain, too, under the lights was probably huge for this because I wasn't distracted by the lights. I was just ready to go. It was just another race. Deep in my muscle memory was this feeling that it's home. I know what it feels like to train under the lights and to race under the lights and that was just huge. I used to train at Storrs Hill every night after school. We'd just go, have some Spaghetti-O's in the car and go train for three hours and then go to sleep.
[on whether Lindsey Vonn had contacted her after the win] She might have. My phone's kind of blowing up while I'm on this conversation. I expect that she's probably trying to enjoy some time off right now so I honestly hope she hasn't yet. I hope that when she comes back, she feels really well and fired up for racing and she'll be able to congratulate me in her own way or we can just move forward, but I hope that right now, she's not too worried about what's going on in these races and she's just taking some time off and to herself.
[on today's course] I think that both courses were actually pretty fair today. There weren't really any tricks. A lot of the time, the coach of each nation sets the course to their nation's favor so if they normally set a certain way training, they'll try to set that way in the races to try to trip everyone up and a lot of times that actually backfires and somebody from a different country wins. So, today was interesting because we didn't really see any of that. It was just two straightforward courses that you needed to really hammer and I think it tested everybody's ability to not think too much and just let it rip, so that was kind of cool.
[on transitioning to speed] My main goal right now is to really dial in my slalom and GS and my technique in general. In GS right now, I'm sometimes making little mistakes like leaning in—that's why I DNF-ed two of the last three races. I just have to make sure that I don't make those mistakes anymore because they're mistakes I don't normally make in training. Under the pressure of racing, I need to be able to bring out my best skiing especially in GS because there's more speed. Once I really dial in my technique, I think the transition to speed will be easier but I think [it will happen] fairly soon. I'm itching to go fast. I love speed.
[on graduating high school] I'm doing classes right now, but it's going slowly because of all the traveling. It's hard to stay in touch with my teachers and it's hard to do the work a lot of times, especially when I have success, because there's everything from the media I have to attend to. Then it's always training and always doing something, so it's difficult to stay up on my schoolwork. I need to talk to my teachers, but I'm hoping to graduate this spring.
[on when she'll be coming back to the USA] I will pretty much be here in Europe until World Cup Finals. The speed girls are having a break right now. I think it's almost a month until their next race so they're actually headed home right now. On the tech side, our breaks are kind of split up. In January and February, I think, we'll have several ten day to two week breaks, so there might be time to go home, but it also depends if it's right before World Championships. There's a city event that is now a possibility for me to race in, so we'll just have to decide what's more important—if I need to go home or if I want to train. So, it's still up in the air.