By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – Mikaela Shiffrin reckons the key to her phenomenal success this season has been shifting her focus from winning races to simply making precise turns along the way, a strategy that has taken the American to the top of the ski racing world.
Shiffrin has been on a historic tear this season, claiming a record fourth successive world slalom title and a gold in super-G at the world championships in Are, Sweden this month.
The 23-year-old has finished atop the podium in 16 of the 24 races she has competed in this season and is all but certain to capture a third straight overall World Cup title. But according to Shiffrin winning is almost an afterthought.
“When I’m in the gym in the summer and I have a really hard set of intervals coming up, to get through the pain I’ll start to think about winning races or dominating the sport — the type of stuff you see in movies,” she said on a conference call.
“But when it actually comes down to racing, I’m never thinking about that. I’m doing my very best to focus on my skiing because the truth is that when I think about results on race day, I rarely get the results I want.”
Focusing on winning tends to backfire, Shiffrin added, as a build-up in adrenalin results in too much intensity on a given run, leading to mistakes and poor results.
“My biggest goal whenever I stand in the starting gate, no matter what record I might be looking at, is to focus on the skiing and the turns because that’s the thing that leaves me the most satisfied,” she said.
“Take care of your skiing and see what happens.”
That ‘let the chips fall where they may’ attitude has also led to more enjoyment of the sports for the prodigy from Vail, Colorado, who began skiing in her parents driveway aged two.
“I’m having more fun with the sport than I ever have, which is awesome.”
There have still been setbacks this season, including a nasty illness at the worlds and nagging back pain that is common for skiers competing in the physically demanding super-G discipline.
Shiffrin said that even though she has never suffered a major injury, she is trying to manage the wear and tear the sport puts on her body.
“I’m not necessarily old but I definitely feel with each year that my body is starting to complain to me.”
Asked about her 24th birthday next month, she said that was another thing she does not dwell on.
“My birthday is like the records, I really don’t ever think about it,” she said with a laugh.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Ferris)