Shiffrin aims to bloom in Spring air at world ski champs

American superstar heads stellar cast with sights set on seventh title in French resorts

AFP February 05, 2023


Mikaela Shiffrin heads up a stellar cast of alpine skiers as her bid to become the most successful World Cup racer takes a momentary break at the world championships that kick off on Monday.

In an age when women's sport in general is being pushed to the forefront like never before, Shiffrin rightly continues to steal the skiing headlines, male or female, thanks to her metronomic brilliance on the snow.

The 27-year-old American is one victory shy of Sweden legend Ingemar Stenmark's overall World Cup record of 86, parading an astonishing run of form this season to close in on the mark.

That form comes in timely shape for the worlds in the French resorts of Courchevel and Meribel as two-time Olympic gold medallist Shiffrin targets a seventh world title.

"I'm really excited to race here because we get the sun on the slope so it just feels like the first breathe of Spring. You get some vitamin D!" was Shiffrin's esoteric take on the worlds that run until February 19.

While Spring doesn't officially start until March 20, Shiffrin's remark might be seen as apropos, but then again, the weather forecast is good, so who would argue with the American?

Shiffrin said that although she had been thinking about Stenmark's record "quite a lot recently", two weeks off would be no bad thing.

"I don't think it makes a difference if I get to 86, basically, but it would be cool," she said, downplaying some pundits who argue that her now-retired teammate Lindsey Vonn remains the best female skier (with 82 World Cup victories) because she competed primarily in the speed events.

"One of the most magical things about sport is that people get to decide who the greatest of all time is," she said.

"Maybe I have the chance to surpass the all-time victories record, and that's unbelievable, I can't put words on that."

Shiffrin, insisting she has no expectations, will compete in the alpine combined, super-G, giant slalom and slalom on Meribel's Roc de Fer piste.

Competition will come from Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, and a strong Swiss team fired by Lara Gut-Behrami – who shot to fame when the worlds were last held in France, in Val d'Isere in 2009 – that will be keen to leap on any mistake.

"The whole purpose of any world championships or any big event is to go for gold. You don't have to protect World Cup points or standings, anything like that," Shiffrin said.

"The whole purpose is to, every day, go out, ready to race, ready to take the risk and ski the fastest I can possibly ski. And then at the end of the day you just hope it's good enough to win a medal."

The strong Swiss team also includes Marco Odermatt on the male side, the runaway leader in the men's overall World Cup standings.

His biggest rival on Courchevel's L'Eclipse piste will be Norwegian speed specialist Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, coincidentally Shiffrin's partner.

"It's true that a world medal is last thing that I'm missing from my haul," said Odermatt, giant slalom gold medallist at last year's Beijing Olympics.

"Of course, it's one of my ambitions to win a medal, preferably gold, here."

Kilde is fresh from nailing an impressive downhill victory in Kitzbuehel, widely regarded as the toughest course on the World Cup circuit, but will face a battle with not only Odermatt but also the Austrians in the speed events.

Home hopes rest with Olympic slalom champion Clement Noel and the veteran trio of 2019 world combined champion Alexis Pinturault, Johan Clarey and Tessa Worley, a two-time giant slalom winner at the worlds (2013, 2017).

Noel was left fuming after bombing out of the World Cup slalom in Chamonix on Saturday after setting the fastest first leg.

"It's tough to swallow, I've gone from everything to nothing," he said.

"I'll keep the positives in a few days when my head has been rested."



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