Mikaela Shiffrin has never shied away from showing her esoteric approach to ski racing, seemingly gaining as much satisfaction from nailing one tight turn in a training session to topping the podium at the world championships or Olympic Games.
It comes across as almost unfathomable at times to an onlooker, but it is the base on which Shiffrin has built her incredible career. And the American is still just 25 years of age.
A three-time World Cup overall champion, she has won seven world championship medals, five gold, and three Olympic medals, two gold.
The only skier ever — male or female — to win all six currently contested alpine skiing disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super-G, combined, parallel slalom), Shiffrin has notched up 68 career wins on the World Cup circuit. Only retired US teammate Lindsey Vonn (82) and Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark (86) have won more.
“It’s not always as carefree as I would like it to be,” Shiffrin said of her current sensations when she hits the slopes.
“Over the years I feel like there has been a little bit more burden involved with ski racing, there’s a little bit more weight, a little bit more pressure and I don’t love that.”
- 300 days away -
Shiffrin has endured a tough year which was marked by the sudden death of her father Jeff in February last year.
She took a step back from skiing and went 300 days without racing. A return to the pistes shows she has raced just 10 times in the past 12 months.
“There are always some moments where I feel that kind of thing where it’s carefree and the rest of the world, everything else, doesn’t exist any more and it’s just me skiing and it feels like flying or it feels like dancing or I don’t know, it feels like really special,” Shiffrin said.
“And those moments happen often enough that it keeps me feeling like it’s totally worth it to go through the moments of burden or pain or frustration or pressure or anything else because there’s not another thing that exists in life that I can imagine gives the feeling that ski racing does when it’s the best it could be.”
Shiffrin will have her work cut out on Monday, with Switzerland's Wendy Holdener out to defend her two combined titles, from Are in 2019 and St Moritz in 2017.
“I am really positive for the countdown,” said Holdener, who also claimed the combined bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.
“I have some really good memories. I love to change disciplines. I wouldn’t be an athlete just for one discipline so it fits me well. I have to defend my title, my double title. Pretty cool to do three in-a-row.”
Another Swiss racer, Michelle Gisin, a 2017 world combined silver medallist who won 2018 Olympic gold ahead of Shiffrin and Holdener, will surely be in the running for a podium finish in the event which sees a slalom scheduled for 1000 GMT followed by a super-G (1330).
Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, who leads the current World Cup overall standings, is also a proven all-rounder, having won combined silver in Are and showing up well in speed events this season.