Krasnaya Polyana • With maturity beyond her years, Mikaela Shiffrin prepares herself for every situation she can anticipate because she doesn’t like being caught off-guard. She visualizes different kinds of conditions that might face her in races, even jots down potential media questions in a notebook so she can offer thoughtful answers.
The precocious 18-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colo., makes her Olympic debut Tuesday in giant slalom, and she’s thought out every conceivable scenario.
"I’ve envisioned this moment for quite a while," Shiffrin said. "I’ve visualized myself on the top step of the podium, and on the third step of the podium. I’ve envisioned myself crashing, because I know what mistake I [would have] made to crash, and I know I’m not going to do that in the race."
That begged a question: Is it possible to be too prepared? She was ready for that one.
"I don’t think it’s possible to be too prepared, but it’s possible to think too much," Shiffrin said. "That’s the trick on race day, to turn all those extra thoughts off and just know that I’ve been preparing for this for my entire life, really. Whether I knew it or not at the time, every event that’s happened to me has been preparation for this, and this is preparation for whatever happens in my future. I’ve always been really aware of that.
"I’m also a thinker, so some races I think a little too much and I start to doubt myself. I don’t feel any doubt right now. I just feel really excited."
At the world championships last year in Schladming, Austria, Shiffrin was the favorite in slalom. She was third-fastest in the first run, but both of the women ahead of her had poor second runs. Hers was solid, and she became the third-youngest world champion, proving she has what it takes to perform under big-event pressure.
That was the best preparation for the Olympics.
"I think there will definitely be more nerves, because this means something to the rest of the world, so it also makes it mean something more to me," Shiffrin said. "In the starting gate, I’m expecting to feel jitters because I’m about to leave the start and go as fast as I can, trying to hit hard plastic gates. I can really get nervous thinking that. But it’s a really enthusiastic nervousness, and I’m starting to be able to channel that to make it into good skiing."
Shiffrin knows the Olympics are notorious for producing unexpected champions. Favorites emerge from a World Cup season that spans months, but funny things happen in a sport that separates winners and losers by fractions of seconds.
"Sometimes on race days, especially at the Olympics, it’s hard for the best skier or the fastest skier to actually win," Shiffrin said. "It’s easier for the ones who, people think, don’t have a chance … It’s been interesting for me to see, it’s a learning lesson that no matter how good you are, you cannot take your foot off the gas. We’re all here to ski, we’re all here to inspire the rest of the world with our sport, and that’s exactly what I’m planning to do."
In a sense, Shiffrin gets to ease herself into the Olympic experience. She is a contender in GS, based on having two career podium appearances, both this season, but she’s not the favorite. She is the favorite Friday, because she’s been the best slalom skier in the world the past two seasons.
Teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic champion in GS, has expressed concern about how courses could become rutted because of warm temperatures. Shiffrin won’t go there.
"I’m not concerned," Shiffrin said. "I have heard several athletes say it was too soft. On race day, I’m not planning to have that as an excuse. If I don’t win, it’s because of something I did with my skiing. And if I do win, then it’s because of something I did with my skiing."
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