Approaching a race weekend where she can set yet another Alpine skiing World Cup record might sound like business as usual to Mikaela Shiffrin.
This time, it’s not.
The American double Olympic champion has arrived in Levi, Finland, after dealing with back pain that limited her preparation in Copper Mountain, the U.S. ski team’s training base in Colorado.
Only the last days before heading to Finnish Lapland was Shiffrin able to ski the volume she had planned.
“Coming here, I was a little less concerned about it. We are through the worst of this whole spasm. On to the skiing, hopefully,” Shiffrin said Wednesday after arriving in Levi for two slaloms this weekend.
Shiffrin has won 45 of her 70 career World Cups in slalom, leaving her one short of the best mark for most wins in a single discipline, set by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark with 46 giant slalom wins in the 1970s and '80s.
Shiffrin already holds the women’s record, since surpassing Lindsey Vonn’s tally of 43 wins, in downhill.
Saturday’s race will be her first since winning the season-opening GS in Sölden, Austria, four weeks ago.
And with the back issue under control, Shiffrin is grateful to be able to focus on skiing again instead of nursing an injury.
Though she sat out the GS in Sölden a year ago after tweaking her back in training, Shiffrin has stayed clear of major physical injuries through her 10-year professional career.
Her worst setback? Hurting her knee in warmups for a GS in Are, Sweden, which kept her away from the slopes for two months in early 2016.
“Looking back on my career I think it’s a really cool thing to have gotten through this far with a fewer amount of injuries than a lot of people may expect,” Shiffrin said.
“I know that a lot of people would say that means that I haven’t been pushing hard enough and doing enough,” she added. “Because there's a lot of people up there with the perspective that you are not a complete athlete or a complete ski racer without having to overcome a major physical injury.”
For the American, though, that has become “a very different story now” since her world turned upside down following the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, in February 2020.
She only returned 10 months later — at the slalom weekend in Levi a year ago.
“It is not a physical injury to a bone, or muscle, or ligament, but … the injury of a legitimate broken heart, that has been taking a long time to get over,” Shiffrin said.
“And there is no road map, which is even scarier. I guess that is probably the biggest injury I will ever have in my career, no matter what will happen.”
Shiffrin finished second and fifth, respectively, upon her comeback in Levi, though getting good results was not her main interest that weekend.
It was more about top-level ski racing as such, and whether all the traveling and the being away from home was still worth it.
“I was in a place last year with a lot more uncertainty. But there’s still always doubts in my mind about, like, how long can I realistically do this? With the travel and everything and constantly putting your body through the wringer,” Shiffrin said.
At this point, it’s still worth it.
“And I feel like I still have a lot of fast skiing I can do. I don’t know how long it’s going to be that way, but for now I’m definitely a bit more certain that I want to be doing this than I was last year at this time.”
Which is “nice,” as Shiffrin put it.
“Last season, it was a lot more uncomfortable than I had ever experienced, and this year it seems to be feeling like it’s going closer to normal.”
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