SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy | Mikaela Shiffrin doesn’t need to look at social media to see what people are saying about her.
After failing to finish two straight races with next month’s Pyeongchang Olympics rapidly approaching, the overall World Cup leader knows what her critics are thinking.
“I can see it in my mind, ‘Mikaela Shiffrin faltering before the Olympics.’ And, ‘The streak is coming to an end,’” Shiffrin said Tuesday after an uncharacteristic fall in the first run of a giant slalom. “But I’m not really worried about what other people think. That’s a different place that I’m in this year compared to last year.
“I’m not invincible. I’m fighting every single race and you start to hear people say, ‘It’s boring because Mikaela is winning everything.’ Well, it’s not boring today,” Shiffrin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I am in a good place mentally and I don’t feel like today or the race in Cortina (Sunday’s super-G, in which she missed a gate) is a sign. There are logical explanations for why I DNF’d in both races.”
In the GS, Shiffrin lost control of her inside ski coming around a turn as she entered the toughest section of a slope named Erta, which translates as steep. With a gradient of 61 percent in that section, Shiffrin slid a long way down the course but immediately got up and was not injured.
“These things happen,” said Jeff Lackie, one of Shiffrin’s coaches. “They don’t typically happen with Mikaela because she’s so consistent. But anytime you add speed you have to be that much more diligent about being well balanced over the outside ski.”
It marked the first time in more than six years that Shiffrin failed to finish two consecutive races. The last time came in back-to-back slaloms in Courchevel, France, and Flachau, Austria, in December 2011 — before the American registered her first World Cup podium.
“Now is a good time if it has to happen,” Lackie said. “I would rather it happen now and give her the opportunity to recalibrate and refocus.”
Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany returned from two weeks in bed with the flu to claim her third win of the season, while Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway and defending champion Federica Brignone of Italy came second and third, respectively, at the Kronplatz resort.
Shiffrin had been undefeated this year in the technical disciplines of GS, slalom and parallel slalom with five straight wins. And while she has been dominant in slalom with seven wins in eight races this season, she has only won two of six GS races — with Rebensburg and Brignone gathering the other victories.
“There are many strong girls in the GS races,” Rebensburg said “It’s not just (Shiffrin).”
Still, Shiffrin was distraught after her error, retreating immediately to the team hotel without first stopping to review the race with her mother and coach, Eileen, as she usually does.
“I don’t think she should be too disappointed,” Eileen Shiffrin said. “She made a mistake getting on her inside ski. I’m sure she won’t do that again.”
Added Lackie: “You don’t need to drag your face through the mud. She knows what she did wrong. Failure is not fatal. We’ll move on.”
After collecting herself in her hotel room, Shiffrin eventually came down and discussed the race. To lift her spirits, she played with the 5-month-old son of her ski technician, Kim Erlandson, while she spoke.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Shiffrin said, wiping away a tear or two. “Because out of all the runs that I ski — and I train more than probably anybody — I don’t crash and I don’t DNF. … I place so much emphasis on making every single turn perfect.”
Still, Shiffrin realizes that in the grand scheme of things, these races are not all that important. While she dropped slightly behind Rebensburg in the giant slalom standings, Shiffrin still holds a massive 843-point lead over the German in the overall standings.
“Today is not the focus. The Olympics is the focus,” Shiffrin said. “But for me today is just a lesson to remember that nobody is invincible.”