‘I just love racing in front of the crowd’
By Katy Savage
Mikaela Shiffrin is clearly the superstar of Superstar. She won her fourth straight Slalom at the HomeLight Killington World Cup on Sunday, Dec. 1. The races were held on a trail called Superstar. Shiffrin’s lead was sizable, too, at 2.29 seconds combined — the largest margin for a women’s slalom in three years. An estimated 19,500 fans cheered her on.
The win gave Shiffrin a total of 62 career victories, tying her for fourth on the list of all time wins with Austrian Annemarkie Moser-Proll. Meanwhile, Slovakian Petra Vlhova took second in the Slalom (for the third year in a row), while Anna Swenn Larsson from Sweden took third.
Shiffrin also earned her seventh straight spot on the podium in the Giant Slalom on Saturday, though she was edged out of first place by Italian Marta Bassino, who earned her first career World Cup win. Bassino’s teammate Federica Brignone took second place by a slim 0.26 seconds.
After three years of racing in Killington, Shiffrin, 24, said this year was a different race for her.
“The first year, it was pretty miserable,” Shiffrin admitted. “I did feel a lot of pressure. Everyone wants to see that win here on home soil…there was a lot.”
She said the pressure she felt changed when she received an Instagram message from a fan.
The fan said, “You might feel this pressure but no matter what we’re supporting you,” Shiffrin remembered. “It was a really meaningful thing to hear or to read at that time…When I don’t win I’m like, ‘wow people move on really quickly from that, so maybe I should, too.’”
Shiffrin said she wanted to have fun at the World Cup. This year, Shiffrin returned to the place where her race career started — before she had crystal globes and Olympic medals.
Shiffrin, who graduated from Burke Mountain Academy in 2013, went back to Burke for the first time since she was a teenager to train on Vermont snow in the days leading up to this year’s races.
Shiffrin said she was taken aback when Burke Mountain lift operator Chris Carr showed Shiffrin a lift ticket she signed for him when she was still a student in 2010.
“He brought it back for me to sign again this year,” Shiffrin said at a press conference. “I just cried a lot. It was sentimental. It’s something that’s special.”
Shiffrin reflected on her race career and what she’s learned since she was a student.
“I have been one of the racers to take myself too seriously pretty much all the time,” she said. “Over the last couple years, I’ve started to get to know some of these girls and some of my biggest competitors and have realized that they’re more than just competitors. For me that’s helped make the competition less stressful.
“You start to almost feel a little bit like a family,” Shiffrin said as she sat next to her colleagues, including 17-year-old New Zealand native Alice Robinson, who upset Shiffrin by winning the season-opening Giant Slalom last month in Soelden, Austria.
Robinson fell in her second run of the Giant Slalom at Killington on Saturday—the day before her 18th birthday.
Despite the perceived rivalry between Shiffrin and Robinson going into the giant slalom, Shiffrin said she doesn’t like to talk about rivalries.
“You can never have your eyes on that one athlete because there’s always someone who’s going to sneak up on you and surpass you,” Shiffrin said. “Instead of focusing on everyone else, you focus on yourself and go as fast as you can.”
Shiffrin’s competitors spoke about her ability to handle the pressure of being on home soil.
“I don’t know how she makes it,” Brignone said. “I’m really impressed. She’s here, this is her home and she can deal with the pressure—she’s really, really good at it.”
Brignone added that the crowd cheers for all the racers.
“I think nobody is judging—even Mikaela,” Brignone said.
This year, Shiffrin has also dealt with personal changes. Shiffrin’s grandmother, who attended Shiffrin’s first race at Killington four years ago, died in October at age 98. Shiffrin’s mom and coach, Eileen, also stepped back from coaching her for the first time since Shiffrin started racing. However, Eileen still traveled to Killington this year in support of her daughter.
Eileen passed out pre-signed autographs and thanked fans for coming despite the cold weather, while Shiffrin posed for selfies with the crowd after her run.
“I just love racing in front of the crowd here,” Shiffrin said in a press conference after the event.