Shiffrin Team takes a moment together in Kranjska Gora: Photo U.S. Ski and Snowboard
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia
Mikaela Shiffrin’s steadfast determination, constant ability to execute under any circumstances and absolute mastery of her craft continue to astonish ski racing enthusiasts.
As Shiffrin edges closer to the highest echelons of her sport, monumental achievements almost seem routine. Everyone has grown to expect greatness from the four-time overall World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Mikaela has spoiled everyone, making what other racers could only dream of executing look easy.
It leads many to wonder, in addition to her obvious innate and incredible talent, if there is a unique formula behind her tremendous success and seemingly never-ending achievements. Or is it more the old adage that hard work, dedication and perseverance produce ultimate success? Most likely, it is some combination of the two.
Mike Day, Shiffrin’s coach of seven years, offers insight, perspective and a closer glimpse into team strategies and vision. He shares what has probably led to her recent remarkable string of five consecutive victories across three disciplines and lofty perch atop the overall World Cup standings.
“From a coaching standpoint, we’re constantly trying to help her get better, and truthfully, it’s more about being better prepared than improving her skiing a lot,” said Mike Day in an interview before Shiffrin’s GS races in Kranjska Gora. “It’s about putting her in the best position from a preparation standpoint, which usually leads to solid performances.
“She often states that she’s trying to get better every day. That’s not just lip service. It’s true.”
“We’re still training quite a high volume at a steady clip. Many of our days between races are filled with training. She can produce that training and get in a confident headspace,” Day says.
Focus on preparation and season gameplan
Day informs that Shiffrin’s current season game plan was already being formulated towards the latter part of last season. Key decisions concerning her race schedule seem to be paying off nicely, considering her recent torrid pace standing atop the victory stand.
The current schedule involved a grueling stretch of six technical races, albeit with a slalom cancellation in Zagreb, jammed into a tight span of 10 days. Shiffrin has thrived, winning consecutive GS races in Semmering, Austria, followed by slalom victories in Semmering and Zagreb, Croatia and a GS win in Kranjska Gora. She has quickly ascended to 82 career World Cup wins and has tied Lindsey Vonn’s women’s all-time World Cup victory record.
“I think her preparation for the season has been very good. We changed some of the travel schedules at the beginning of the season, including not going to Lake Louise, to increase her energy level during this part of the year,” Day says. “It’s been quite successful.”
“From a management perspective, I feel like we’ve done quite a good job. From a skiing perspective, clearly, she is well prepared and has good energy. Those things normally line up with some good performances. When she feels prepared and is not fatigued, good things happen.”
Originally from Auburn, Maine, Day launched his coaching career at Carrabassett Valley Academy, just down the road from Sugarloaf. He then moved to the Park City Ski Team in Utah before joining the U.S. Ski Team ahead of the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The highly experienced coach has also contributed his expertise to the Green Mountain Valley School in Waitsfield, Vermont.
Charging ahead but not discussing World Cup records
While ski racing fans and the media cannot stop talking about Shiffrin’s exciting assault on both Vonn’s 82 and Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 career World Cup victories, Day informs that records are never discussed among Shiffrin and her close-knit team, including her mother, Eileen. “As an individual, she does a great job staying focused in the moment; that’s obvious. But we as a team really don’t talk about the numbers,” Day says. “We go day by day, doing our very best to make sure that she is always prepared. Ultimately, I think the numbers take care of themselves with good performances. Honestly, we never talk about numbers.”
Shiffrin’s impressive streak of five consecutive victories across three disciplines halted in Saturday’s GS in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. The Colorado ski racer finished tied for sixth, 1.33 seconds behind Canadian race winner Valerie Grenier. It was a rare stumble.
Never ceasing to amaze
Day asserts that Shiffrin is unlike any ski racer that he has been around in his more than 25 years of coaching the sport.
“One of the most impressive things with Mikaela is how long she’s been able to produce great performances,” Day said. “You’ll see plenty of people who come in and out with a hot stretch or a couple of hot races or one good one. But to do what she is doing, race after race, season after season, is really super impressive.”
And while Shiffrin, Day and their team’s collective mission is about putting their heads down and smartly charging forward, staying focused and ultimately pushing her to become the greatest ski racer that she can be, her longtime coach admits that he is also a huge fan.
“I love to watch her ski no matter what, but at the moment, watching her ski both in races and especially in training, it is a really special level of skiing to witness on a daily basis,” he says. “That’s been really exciting.”
Follow Brian on Twitter – @Brian_Pinelli