MERIBEL – One gold. Two silvers. And three gates away from another gold medal that slipped from her grasp in a patch of soft snow.
And that just was what Mikaela Shiffrin accomplished on the slopes at the world championships.
Off the slopes, the American skier dealt with a protest from environmentalists who mistakenly thought she was using a helicopter for training — resulting in security being brought in to protect her.
The helicopter flap was followed by an even bigger distraction when Shiffrin’s longtime personal coach, Mike Day, left her abruptly in the middle of the worlds after being told that Shiffrin planned to take a new direction with her staff after the season.
All of that during a record-breaking season on the World Cup circuit where her every turn and move has drawn enormous scrutiny.
“It’s been a complete world championships — every emotion I could feel,” Shiffrin said after earning the silver medal in slalom on Saturday to conclude the women's events. “I’m really proud when I look back at the last two weeks. And I also have things to learn as well. . . . How I handle situations in life and how I can improve on that.”
Shiffrin’s performance was a vast improvement on how she fared at last year’s Beijing Olympics, where she didn’t win a medal amid enormous expectations and didn’t finish three of her five races.
“We all know that I’ve experienced the situation where I have no medals,” Shiffrin said. “So I’m very, very appreciative to be on the silver side of things. Even if it’s not gold, it’s still been such a spectacular world championships and a spectacular season.”
The slalom — traditionally Shiffrin’s best event — was a tale of two vastly different runs.
Starting first in the opening leg, Shiffrin darted down between the blue and red gates with her usual world-beating precision, rapidly changing the direction of her fluorescent orange skis on the bright snow almost to perfection.
Then she took up her accustomed spot in the leader’s fur-lined hot seat and watched as only one skier, Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, finished anywhere close to her at a gap of 0.19 seconds.
Unheralded Canadian racer Laurence St-Germain stood third after the first run at a distant 0.61 behind Shiffrin.
The last contender down in the second run, Shiffrin heard the crowd roar when St-Germain took the lead and then also heard the reaction when Holdener looked ready to establish a huge lead over St-Germain before the Swiss skier lost control in a rut and went off course midway down.
Shiffrin then lost almost her entire advantage over St-Germain by the first checkpoint but held onto a slim lead in the middle section before eventually falling behind in the deep ruts at the bottom of the course, which went back and forth between shade and sun.
At the finish, Shiffrin didn’t seem to know what her result was at first, then seemed unperturbed when she realized that St-Germain beat her.
“It’s, for sure, fatigue,” Shiffrin said. “It’s been difficult just to keep the focus going. The second run the course set was also completely different and more speed in it and when the agility is a little missing because the energy is a little bit missing, then I’m not willing to take on this speed and to risk everything.”
Shiffrin did risk more in the slalom portion of the combined that opened the worlds — and ended up disqualified for straddling three gates from the finish while on track for gold.
“And if you look at Wendy today, putting her whole heart on the slope and going for gold . . . and then it’s just such a disappointing moment,” Shiffrin said. “In the blink of an eye, it’s all gone. I know what that feels like.”
The course for the first run was set by Mark Mitter, Shiffrin’s assistant coach.
While Day was listed as the course setter on the race start list, it was Mitter who actually performed the duties.
“It’s a joy to work with a superstar like her,” Mitter said. “It’s just trying not to get into her way, actually. . . . We work together as a team.”
Shiffrin won the slalom world title four times from 2013 to 2019 and took the bronze medal two years ago. She became the first skier, male or female, to win six medals in one discipline at the worlds. She also won the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games for the first of her three career Olympic medals.
In her career at the worlds, Shiffrin improved her remarkable record to 14 medals in 17 races.
She has some time off before resuming her chase of Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins next month.
Shiffrin broke Lindsey Vonn’s women’s record of 82 wins last month and needs only one more victory to match Stenmark, who raced in the 1970s and 1980s.
Races at the worlds don’t count toward World Cup totals.
Shiffrin will skip next weekend’s World Cup races in Crans Montana, Switzerland, and instead head to Norway for some training ahead of races in Kvitfjell on March 3-5; followed by her favored technical races in Sweden — Stenmark’s home nation — the following weekend.
Then the season ends in mid-March with the World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra.
“I know I’m close to (Stenmark’s) record, but I think it’s important for everybody to remember that it might not happen this season,” Shiffrin said. “So I don’t take for granted all the success I’ve had so far this season, even this world championships.
“Now, first, we celebrate the last two weeks tonight, and then we reset, recover and get ready for the final races of the season.”
Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf
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