CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — There was a time not too long ago when Mikaela Shiffrin might have brooded and sulked over a major mistake that cost her a gold medal.
The American skier has a different outlook now.
Shiffrin was all smiles after settling for bronze in the super-G at the world championships on Thursday — able to quickly move on mentally from a mistake toward the end of an otherwise perfect run.
“A medal doesn’t change your life,” said Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion who won the super-G at the previous worlds two years ago. “There’s bigger things.”
She should know. Because Shiffrin’s life has been upended over the last year.
Her father, Jeff Shiffrin, died following an accident at the family’s home in Edwards, Colorado, last February. Then the outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe cut short the World Cup season in mid-March just when Shiffrin was attempting a comeback.
The pandemic vastly limited Shiffrin’s opportunities for training during the summer and a tweaked back forced her to sit out the season-opener in October, delaying her comeback by five more weeks.
Which makes it all the more impressive that Shiffrin came away with a medal from her first super-G race in more than a year.
“The things I’ve experienced this year and this day are actually separate,” Shiffrin said. “As much as I would want to connect it and say that it was somehow fate that I would come to the super-G and all of these things have come together and like (be) some destiny thing, it’s not.
“I had a good plan and I was able to execute it for the most part everywhere. So that’s satisfying but it’s more a testament to my coaches and the team helping me get the right preparation and having the exact right attitude here than it is about any of the tragedies that happened.”
Shiffrin was flying down the sun-bathed Olympia delle Tofana course more than a half-second faster than anyone else when she drifted wide going over a small jump and had to flail her right arm and pole behind her body to regain her balance in order to clear the next gate.
The correction then forced her off the racing line into soft snow.
“I got really pushed out wide and I felt like one of the course crews slipping the wide line, plowing snow,” Shiffrin said. “That’s not fast.”
No wonder Shiffrin was shaking her head when she reached the finish — even though as the fourth skier down she had taken the lead.
Shiffrin immediately knew that her lead was at risk and sure enough Corinne Suter, the next skier down, bumped her out of the top spot. Then Lara Gut-Behrami won gold by finishing 0.34 seconds ahead of Suter, her Swiss teammate.
Shiffrin finished 0.47 seconds behind Gut-Behrami.
“You can look at it as a bummer or a really positive thing — that I had a mistake like that and I still managed to get a medal,” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t expect that before the day but definitely not when I was skiing the course and making that mistake and I was thinking, ‘Well all I can do is tuck now, because it’s flat and I lost all my speed.’
“But the rest of the course was just so much fun to ski,” she added. “It was just like butter. Just amazing. So my feeling after the day is generally just super positive.”
The super-G is the first of four events that Shiffrin plans to ski at worlds. She’s also entered in next week’s combined, giant slalom and slalom.
Already, though, Shiffrin has matched Lindsey Vonn with eight career medals at worlds. What’s more is that Shiffrin’s eight medals have come in only 10 races.
In her final event at these championships, Shiffrin will aim for a record-extending fifth straight slalom world title.
Don’t heap any expectations on her, though. Not after what she’s been through.
“The goal is to not have expectations anyway because the only thing that does is put pressure on you and it’s harder to produce the right skiing when you have the pressure,” Shiffrin said. “Because it just doesn’t matter. I have the plan. I want to ski and execute that and just focus on that because it’s the only way I’m going to enjoy the day.
“No matter what event I do, having that mentality is always going to be more fun.”