Shiffrin to win overall title with Stuhec skipping slalom
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) Mikaela Shiffrin didn't even need to step into the starting gate at World Cup Finals to wrap up her first overall title.
No time for any sort of coronation, though, there's still some competition left and she's intent on putting on a show - just like she has all season.
Shiffrin secured the season-long title after Ilka Stuhec and her coach said the Slovenian skier won't compete in the slalom. Stuhec wasn't on the start list for the race.
The 22-year-old Shiffrin joined quite an elite group in Phil Mahre, Tamara McKinney, Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn as the only American overall World Cup champions.
''Of course, it's amazing. To be honest, hearing the news today, it doesn't feel real. I feel like I still have to earn it,'' Shiffrin said in audio provided by the U.S. Ski Team on Friday night. ''I was in my hotel room when someone told me, `Oh, you won the overall.' I'm like, `Really? OK.' It feels so bizarre.''
Citing exhaustion, Stuhec said Friday at the team event that she will skip the slalom race to prepare for the giant slalom on Sunday. Her private coach, Grega Kostomaj, confirmed Stuhec's decision.
Shiffrin already held a nearly insurmountable 198-point lead over Stuhec with two races left - a slalom Saturday and a giant slalom Sunday. Stuhec made a nice run at finals - winning the downhill and taking second in the super-G - to keep the competition close.
Hold anything back now? That's not Shiffrin's style.
''I want to have a really good performance the last two races, because it's in Aspen and so close to home, my home-state crowd,'' Shiffrin recently said.
This sort of season doesn't come as a surprise to Shiffrin. She sets her ambitions high on purpose.
''I'm the person that says I want to be the very best in the world. I want to win five gold medals at the Olympics,'' Shiffrin said. ''It's probably not going to happen. I'm OK with that. But at least I'm not afraid to say it.''
Shiffrin gives off the vibe that she has no nerves on race day. This, after all, is a skier who chills out in snow banks waiting for her turn to take the course.
Make no mistake, though, there are anxieties.
''I have self-doubt - a lot of self-doubt,'' she said. ''It's really important to have that, because if you don't recognize your own limitations, you're never going to be able to work on those challenges and then exceed those limitations. That's something I really, truly believe. I'm the first to tell you what my weaknesses are and where I have to improve to win.''
She's been masterful this season, winning 11 races, including six in slalom, three in giant slalom along with one each in the Alpine combined and a city event.
Her ever-expanding list of accomplishments is impressive for such a young age: 31 World Cup wins, three straight world slalom titles, Olympic slalom gold medal and an overall crystal globe.
Even more, Shiffrin has already captured her fourth season-long slalom title and is still in contention for the giant slalom crown, trailing Tessa Worley of France by 80 points.
''She's such a talent, a really young skier who's been so good for so many years,'' said Frida Hansdotter, who helped Sweden win the team event Friday. ''It's important for the sport to have these stars and idols. She's really worth it.''
Recently, Shiffrin took a stage with Vonn, Erik Guay of Canada, and Norwegian standouts Aksel Lund Svindal and Henrik Kristoffersen during a panel discussion for Oakley on the topic of innovation. In between some light-hearted banter with Vonn - over the movie ''Dumb and Dumber'' - Shiffrin offered insight into a ski racer's mentality.
''You're really only racing for one or two minutes,'' Shiffrin said. ''The rest of it feels like filler - training on snow, dryland, everything that goes into the process of actually winning the race, which is such a short-lived moment in your life. It's really unique. It's specific to our sport, how much athletes have to focus on the process to be successful at it and be a champion at it.''
Shiffrin studies the performances of fellow American Ted Ligety, Worley and of course Austrian great Marcel Hirscher, who captured his sixth straight overall title this season.
''No matter what, Marcel always brings it on race day,'' Shiffrin said. ''I'm incredibly inspired by that.''
After a taxing season, she's ready for some rest.
''I'm so excited to race in these last races and then go home and sit on the couch and literally exhale for the first time all season long,'' Shiffrin said.