KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – U.S. Ski Team athlete Mikaela Shiffrin, who has become one of the Olympic sweethearts of the American media in the run-up to the Sochi Games, arrived in town, appropriately enough, on Valentine’s Day.
The next day, Saturday, after “a walkabout with the TODAY Show,” she met with the press in the Gorki Media Center’s Pasternak Hall. Prior to her arrival in Russia, Shiffrin has been training slalom and giant slalom in Europe in the days since the final pre-Olympic World Cups in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
There had been tons of snow, she said, and once it was removed from the training courses, they were left with a soft surface that rutted up quickly, which could end up being similar to what she’ll face in Sochi, where the weather continues to be unseasonably, and unfortunately, very warm at all the mountain venues.
Basically, she’s looking forward to getting started. “Watching the Olympics this past week,” she said, “got me really excited to come over here and see what it’s like, in person, compared to last year when we here, when basically all that was here was our hotel and a ski lift. And now we’re here and this is huge and it’s kind of reality to me now, and it’s really exciting.”
She congratulated Julia Mancuso for her super combined bronze, and noted that some people seem to think the rest of the team has been a disappointment.
“A lot of people think USA equals gold,” Shiffrin said. “Something to think about for the rest of the world and for the USA is that it takes a lot of work get to this point, not just for us but for every athlete who competes.”
On the challenge of the less than ideal conditions, Shiffrin noted, “As an athlete, as a ski racer, you have to be able to handle everything, and to be a real champion and to win across the board, for an extended period of time, you have to be able to come up on race day, and no matter what the conditions, fight for that top spot. I’m not concerned. I have heard several athletes say, it was too soft for me, it was this or it was that, but on race day, I’m not planning to have that as an excuse. If I don’t win, it’s because of something I do with my skiing, and if I do win, it’s because of something I did with my skiing.”
What has Shiffrin done to prepare for her first Olympic experience and races?
“I don’t think it’s possible to be too prepared, but it’s possible to think too much. So that’s the trick on race day I turn all those extra thoughts off, and just know that I’ve been preparing for this all of my life, really. And that every event that’s happened to me is preparation for this, and this is preparation for what happens in the future.”
Shiffrin has noticeably been accompanied by her mother, Eileen, and sometimes the rest of her family on the World Cup circuit, and that will, for the most part, also be the case at the Olympics. “My dad and mom are arriving today, and my brother is in college back at home; he didn’t want to get too far behind in his studies,” she said.
The Olympic slalom hill is nothing new to Shiffrin, who had the opportunity to train on it last year. “I really like that hill. I think it’s awesome that it has a pitch and also a flat and a knoll, it’s got pretty much everything, and that makes it really fair for the entire competition. We were here for about a week and we skied both GS and slalom, so maybe three days of slalom; I don’t know how many runs, but I was taking a lot of runs then.”
Shiffrin, the world champion in slalom, is also a medal contender in the giant slalom after standing on the podium in both the Beaver Creek and Lienz World Cup races this season.
“I promised myself this summer that I was going to get on the podium in GS this year, not by chance but by hard work, by really improving my GS skills, so I’m really excited to have two podiums this season and I’m really looking forward to the GS race, not just the slalom,” Shiffrin noted.
The first race day for Shiffrin is the giant slalom on Feb. 18 at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, followed by the slalom on Feb. 21.