Home / World News / Mikaela Shriffin decides against going for 5 golds, but discovers secret of conquering ski world

Mikaela Shriffin decides against going for 5 golds, but discovers secret of conquering ski world

PYEONGCHANG — To conquer the whole wide world, first Mikaela Shiffrin had to shrink it.

Rather than stare into all those nervously expectant eyes back home in Colorado, she reduced her pursuit of big Olympic glory to something as simple as one pony-tailed girl on a hill shrouded in trees, where the only sound is made by skis slicing perfect arcs in the snow.

So what happened amid the noisy hype and enervating tension of a skiing competition at the Winter Games might surprise you, unless you are so familiar with Shiffrin’s home town of EagleVail that it’s always a tough choice between the chicken hash or the hippie omelet for breakfast at the Route 6 Café.

Before the second of two runs required of every racer in the giant slalom, needing to make up precious time against Manuela Moelgg of Italy to claim a gold medal, know what Shiffrin did?

She took a nap.

“I do it at every race,” Shiffrin said. “I had one hour today where I could lie down on a bench in the lodge at the top. I had my music on, with my big headphones and noise-canceling, so I couldn’t hear anything. Set my music, and fell asleep. Sometimes I really fall asleep, and when I wake up, it feels like a new day, and I have to figure out where I am.”

A butterfly emerging from her headphone cocoon, Shiffrin went out and crushed the mountain at Yongpyong Alpine Centre, blowing past Moelgg, leaving 79 Olympic competitors to eat her frosty, white dust.

There are more than three dozen turns and even more places to find trouble during the 70 seconds of thigh-burning speed it takes to cover a giant slalom course. But here’s the precise moment when Shiffrin put the gold in her hip pocket. Eight gates after the start, this mountain falls sharply away under the skiers’ boards, forcing them to catch air. While Moelgg took that jump with fear of flying, Shiffrin hopped off it like a carefree kid bounding from a playground swing, and it was: Race over.

What inside Shiffrin allows her to distill the big, scary picture down to perfect little turns at 40 mph, with her fist and hip grazing a surface as hard as concrete?

“That’s the $10 million question. Champions have that ability, right? And true champions are able to produce that whenever it’s needed,” said Mike Day, the lead coach of the U.S. women’s team.

Shiffrin arrived in South Korea with her suitcase overstuffed with crazy ambition, a plan to chase medals in five events, when no male or female skier has ever taken home more than three golds from the Winter Games. Then wicked weather that could turn Yukon Cornelius into a homebody doing jigsaw puzzles by the fire made Shiffrin’s plan seem downright stupid, with wind postponing her Olympic debut by 72 hours, pushing back the giant slalom and slalom races into a tightly compacted schedule certain to strain both her legs and mind.

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