Slalom queen Shiffrin ready for upcoming return to racing
Feb. 12, 2016
CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland (AP) — The slalom queen is back and raring to go after a frustrating two months out with injury.
Mikaela Shiffrin even admits to feeling "jittery" as she prepares to throw herself back into World Cup racing on Monday in Crans-Montana, Switzerland — her first race since tearing a ligament in her right knee in December.
The Olympic and world slalom champion only started skiing again two weeks ago. She's ready, though. Well, as soon as she gets over some jet lag after flying in from Colorado.
"I'm feeling good, a little tired from traveling, but good," Shiffrin said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday. "I trained with some of the German girls today and just being able to train with other girls feels so good. I've been training on my own so just to be back with the girls now feels like I'm already back in the thick of it."
Shiffrin, who turns 21 next month, won two slaloms this season — both in Aspen, Colorado, and both by big margins — before a training mishap in Sweden two months ago interrupted her season.
But she is aiming to be back to her best right from the outset.
"I hope so, that's kind of what I'm coming to figure out," Shiffrin said. "I feel like myself, I feel normal, but you never know. In some ways I feel like I haven't missed anything but in other ways I've missed two months. Even today with the girls there was a little bit of jitters. At the beginning I thought, 'oh my gosh I'm nervous.' But when I don't know how I stack up, I'm always a bit jittery."
However, the three-time defending champion believes those additional nerves will have disappeared by the time she plants her ski poles in the starting gate Monday.
"I'll be nervous, I'm always a little bit nervous," Shiffrin said. "I'll feel the pressure for sure, but not an external pressure or anything, but just something will be there.
"That's normal for me. I always say the day that I don't care, is the day that will be time to quit."
Shiffrin even feels her time off could act as an advantage.
"I'm coming back fresh, it feels like it's the start of the season," she said. "I know normally at this point I really don't feel fresh, so that might help. Hopefully travelling doesn't affect my energy too much. I'm expecting to attack the course. I guess I can be competitive. Sometimes you don't know until you get out there."
With only three slalom races left — along with a parallel event this month in Stockholm that counts in the slalom standings — Shiffrin still has a slim mathematical chance to retain her crown in the discipline. She trails slalom leader Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 305 points.
"That's really a long shot, it would take Frida skiing out every race and she's too consistent," Shiffrin added. "I do think if I can perform well then I can hold onto my standings. Maybe I will stay in the top seven for next year."
Shiffrin has been fortunate in some ways with her injury, in that she hasn't had "any pain really, any swelling, much stiffness." Despite being warned of pain, she says "it was about a two on average" at the beginning, going down to almost no pain at all in the past month.
However, she says the fact that she felt so good added to her frustration at not being able to race as her "little pipe dream" of making it to Flachau in January evaporated.
Apart from a broken arm when she was 11 — when she nevertheless skied with a cast on — Shiffrin has never had a serious injury, and she admits she didn't make the best patient.
"At the beginning when I wasn't sure if it was possible or smart to make a comeback that was tough," Shiffrin said. "And I took it out on my parents. One day I had a huge fight with them. It had been a long day, I'd had doctors' appointments, it was my fifth day back or something. Dad was talking about my comeback, when I should draw the line, mum was saying stuff, the physio was saying stuff. I flipped. I started yelling, "stop talking about this now," I told dad off for talking about me not skiing...
"I yelled for about 10 minutes and everyone was like, 'Mikaela why are you still yelling? No one's talking.' I went to bed and the next morning I apologized. I got really narky several times. I felt like I deserved to be mad for just a second."
Shiffrin said it was easier for her when she had a better idea of the timeline of her recovery as she continued "on the rehab train," doing six to eight hours of rehabilitation a day.
"It was the most boring thing ever," she added. "And luckily my recovery was short. I have even more respect now for girls who've come back after one or two years out with injuries. Poor Lindsey (Vonn) with all her injuries."
Shiffrin watched all the races — both men's and women's — while she was out injured, rooting for her teammates on the U.S. ski team.
Despite an initial fear that her rivals were getting stronger as camera angles "made it look faster than I ever remember skiing," Shiffrin said watching them made her push herself still further.
"Every time I saw a race I'd get a spark and think this is what the rehab's all about," she said. "I'd be tired and then I'd watch a race and I'd be like no let's do something."