Is Mikaela Shiffrin’s hard work about to pay off?

With a maiden overall World Cup title within her grasp, Mikaela Shiffrin explains her work ethic.
By Matt Majendie

Mikaela Shiffrin has continued to surprise people since her FIS Alpine Ski World Cup debut at the tender age of 15, those precocious early runs to her first podium at 16 and her maiden World Cup win at 17. Now, as she turns 22, Shiffrin's poised to take her first Overall World Cup title.

"I still have the lead, which has sort of surprised me," Shiffrin says. "I thought maybe I could be competitive for the Overall this season, but I’m much more confident about it now."

Shiffrin's the first to admit that the season-ending injury to Lara Gut, her closest rival for the title this year, aided her cause. "I was expecting that she'd take over the lead, but she couldn't because of her accident," Shiffrin says.

With just four of the season's 37 races remaining and 400pts (a win's worth 100pts) up for grabs, Shiffrin sits at the top of the World Cup standings with 1,523pts. Her closest challenger Ilka Stuhec is 378pts away in second place, with 1,145pts.

American alpine ski champion Mikaela Shiffrin races the Super Combined in Crans Montana, Switzerland
Mikaela Shiffrin blasting down the course © Eric Spiess/Red Bull Content Pool

I started skiing double sessions, twice as much as my team-mates, more days, more time in each session, and I’m starting to realise that people don’t actually do that

Mikaela Shiffrin

As the action moves to Aspen, USA for what could be the decisive moment of the season, Shiffrin's made no secret of why she's been the dominant force on the slopes.

"I always figured that at the World Cup all the top athletes train every day on snow and getting the miles in," she says. "So when I made it to the World Cup, I felt I had to ski even more, as some girls have 10 years' experience over me and I had to make up for that lost time somehow.

"I started skiing double sessions, twice as much as my team-mates, more days, more time in each session, and I’m starting to realise that people don’t actually do that."

Those in her entourage from those early days on the slopes to today speak of her phenomenal work ethic. Shiffrin herself jokes that it's even to the detriment of her back-up team. "Usually the coaches or others will say, 'We have to take a break now as I've got to be able to prepare the skis,' or coaches need to go home and see their families, but I'm like, 'No, we keep going.'"

But that relentless drive and ambition have turned her from a slalom specialist – she's the Olympic champion and boasts a hat-trick of world titles in the event – into an all-rounder.

American Mikaela Shiffrin racing in the 2017 FIS World Cup slalom race in Crans Montana, Switzerland
Slalom queen – Shiffrin in her best discipline © Eric Spiess/Red Bull Content Pool

This season's delivered in victories in the Giant Slalom and Combined, as well as some strong Downhill results.

And the secret of her success is simple, as she says: "I have the energy and strength to train when no one else is, and you can't really substitute anything for that mileage. That's where the dominance comes from. It's hard to keep up with it. It takes a lot of training."

Shiffrin still believes she's getting better, and her confidence is visibly growing with every race weekend, though she insists that trying to balance her commitments isn't as easy as she's made it look. "Hopefully I can win races consistently in the future," she says. "Right now, I'm having to figure out how to balance it all because I'm young and still new to the World Cup.

"I'm still trying to improve my skiing a lot, so it's difficult to balance.
There's not enough time in the day to get it all done, but this year I felt like we did a good job of balancing it."

For now, the immediate goal is the Overall title, but she's already looking beyond to Pyeongchang, South Korea and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, where she'll look to defend her Slalom gold and pick up medals elsewhere.

She travelled to Korea to train rather than compete at the World Cup event, and has already got pangs of excitement about next year.

"The venues in Korea are amazing," she says. "My hopes were confirmed and that track looks really really fun. It's perfect for the Olympics. It showcases our sport well and I'm excited to get there."

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