After long break, Mikaela Shiffrin grateful just to be racing again

Ready for a return to ski racing after 300 days away, Mikaela Shiffrin is looking for the answer to a question she’s been asking herself since March.

How does it feel to compete again?

“Hopefully it will be a positive experience. And I don’t mean ‘hopefully I win’, but hopefully being a ski racer is a positive experience nonetheless, and hopefully that will be the driving force, ” said Shiffrin on Thursday, two days before the longest break in her. The ten-year World Cup career is expected to end in a slalom in Levi, Finland.

“It didn’t really feel like it was such a long break,” she said. “This spring, summer, fall, this period since I last raced, has been the busiest, most stressful time of my life. … I have the feeling that racing is actually going to be like going on vacation. Right now I am so grateful to be here. “

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion is nearing her first race since January 26, when she took her 66th career win at a super-G in Bulgaria.

Her father, Jeff Shiffrin, died suddenly a week later after an accident at the family’s home in Colorado.

A heartbroken Shiffrin took a five-week break before attempting to make a comeback in the mid-March races in Sweden, after losing her overall lead to Federica Brignone and in the slalom standings to Petra Vlhova. However, the event in Sweden was canceled, as was the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In February, after several weeks at home, I felt like skiing was going to be therapeutic,” said Shiffrin. “If possible, I wanted to try to race before the end of the season. But we arrived in Sweden and we gave it a try, and I was ready to enter the starting gate. Even if it got canceled, that was a really big step. “

While the pandemic limited training opportunities, much of her time in the summer went to finance, tax and accounting courses to keep the family business going, a job previously performed by her father.

In October, a second attempt at a comeback also failed as Shiffrin tweaked her a week before the season-opening giant slalom in Austria.

“I haven’t had much training,” she said. “I was only able to train slalom with the back injury. We narrowed the focus and did it for an hour at a time. “

With Shiffrin being the dominant force at the women’s World Cup in recent years, expectations will of course be high when Shiffrin returns to the starting gate. However, the American herself does not now know what to expect.

“I try to keep expectations very low,” she said. “But my standards for the level of skiing I want to bring are high. I want to ski well, so also ski fast. “

Although she has achieved 43 wins in her slalom career, more than any male or female skier in the history of the sport, she has never focused on records.

“Whatever happens, if I ski well, if I try my best, but things don’t go the way I hoped, it’s hard to be disappointed in the end,” Shiffrin said of her approach to Saturday’s race.

Shiffrin had a big lead in both the slalom and overall World Cup standings before her hiatus last season, but she insisted that losing those titles didn’t anger her.

So Saturday’s return “isn’t about settling scores.”

“I am incredibly angry, but not about the way last season ended. I am angry that my father died, I am angry about how lonely I feel most days, ”she said. “But on the other hand, I am extremely grateful to have my mother here with me so often. I have never been one to be motivated by anger. … If I’ve learned anything in the past 300 days, it’s that you really should take what life serves you. It may not taste good, but you should eat it anyway. “