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Skiing and Snowboarding : Athletes

Mikaela Shiffrin's Date with Olympic Destiny

Four years ago, the current reigning world-champion slalom skier Mikaela Shiffrin, then all of 14, realized timing was everything. The more she skied slalom, ski racing’s most technical event, the more she felt a unique tempo. She honed in on the sound of the gates hitting the snow. She heard a beat—usually drums, but sometimes the rhythmic strumming of a guitar. “Tempo” became her trigger word.

“If anyone said ‘tempo’, I’d search for that correct feeling,” says Shiffrin. “I wasn’t worried about the technical movements; I was just looking for perfect timing. It changes with every course, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can inspect the course and feel the tempo before I ski it.”

On January 14, 2014, Shiffrin won her third World Cup slalom race of the season, solidifying her position as Olympic favorite in the event. The 18-year-old has also podiumed twice in giant slalom this season, another discipline in which she's a viable medal contendar in Sochi. Last season, her second on the World Cup circuit, Shiffrin won the slalom race at the world championships in Schladming, Austria, becoming the fourth youngest woman—and just third non-European—to win the World Cup Slalom title. Oh, and she also graduated high school from Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy.

Off the slopes, the rosy cheeked, curly haired American teen looks as wholesome as her friends describe her.

“She’s the epitome of a normal girl,” says her BMA roommate Brayton Pech. “She's not afraid to make fun of herself. She doesn't swear. She does these great impressions from Pixar movies. She loves to nap. She’s a good listener. She's never fake… she's exactly who she is.”

But when it comes to owning technical ski races, she’s all focus and hard work. “I’m not the most athletic person,” Shiffrin says. “Sports are in my genes, but there are a lot of other girls who I’ve gone up against who are better athletes—they’re stronger, bigger, faster, scrappier, and mentally tougher.”

But nothing could deter Shiffrin from improving. She was—and still is—hell bent on becoming tangibly better everyday.

“I’m always hungry to ski,” she says. “There are times when I do need a day off but it’s because I’m fatigued, not because I don’t want to put my boots on.”

At BMA, a small boarding school with a ski-racing emphasis (alum include Erik Schlopy and Diann Roffe), Shiffrin was usually the first one on the hill, warming up and helping set the course. After training, she’d ski another five runs on her own, working on various drills to perfect her technique.

“She’s a student of skiing,” says Kirk Dwyer, her coach at BMA, who Shiffrin credits with establishing her work ethic. “She’s probably spent more time analyzing video than any skier out there.”

Pech remembers a powder day when class was cancelled. After a few runs, Shiffrin disappeared.

“I was on the chairlift and looked over at our training hill. Half the fencing was covered in snow and Mikaela was doing drills on her Super G skis. What most of us see as work, she sees as fun.”

Shiffrin’s parents, Jeff and Eileen, noticed her talent early on. “She had the fundamentals dialed by the time she was six,” says Eileen. “She was already arcing these awesome turns.”

In 2003, her family left Vail, Colorado, for New England, where Shiffrin and her older brother Taylor enrolled at Burke. A brief stint back in Colorado proved to Shiffrin that the east coast, with its challenging conditions and efficient vertical, was the optimal place to develop as a ski racer. Her modus operandi: high volume.

“There are few skiers who can ski the amount Mikaela skis,” says Dwyer.

When she was 14, while most of her peers were competing in up to 30 races a season, Shiffrin only raced a dozen times. Instead of traveling to races around the country and skiing two timed runs, she skied all day, everyday, working on her technique.

“At that stage, and even now, I need a lot of training,” says Shiffrin. “I’m racing with girls who have 10 years mileage on me, so I have to take every chance to train.”

Shiffrin explains that because 60-second runs take up a small portion of a typical five-hour training day, a lot of her time revolves around visualization.

“You can pretty much simulate training,” she says. “If you visualize well enough, your brain can’t tell between skiing and visualizing. Then, you can get double or triple the amount of training.”

Shiffrin started her first World Cup race at the age of 15. Two years later, she won her first World Cup race in Are, Sweden, becoming the second-youngest American ever to win an alpine World Cup event. Instead of traveling with the U.S. Ski Team—and teammates ten years her senior—Mikaela chose to travel the World Cup circuit with her mom. Eileen has spent the last two winters driving around the Alps with her daughter, taking care of meals and laundry, and helping her study and complete high school while on the road. She even plays a coach’s role from time to time.

“She has a good eye,” says Shiffrin. “If I have a tough day I can look at video with her and we can start to figure out what happened. It’s been like that ever since I can remember.”

With Shiffrin’s work ethic and determination, she most likely could have succeeded in a number of sports. But when her coach recently asked her why she didn’t pursue soccer, she answered confidently:

“I’m a ski racer. That’s how I identify myself, with skis strapped to my feet."

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Making Cross-Country Skiing Relevant

If Kikkan Randall wins cross-country gold on February 11, as most pundits predict, it will be a first for the U.S. and the first Olympic medal won by an American in the sport since Bill Koch took home the silver in 1976. Her biggest accomplishment, though, might be convincing people that cross-country skiing is entertaining.

With streaks of pink in her blond hair and a penchant for feather boas, Randall, 31, brings snowboarder-punk flair to an other­wise staid sport. She also races the sprint, an event that wasn't part of elite competition until 2001. (It debuted at the Olympics in Salt Lake City.) Compared with the 30-­kilometer grind that has always defined cross-country, the sprint is a kilometer and a half of fury, where six athletes go elbow-to-elbow on a hilly, twist­ing track. Think Roller Derby on snow.

"It's six skiers on a course that's sometimes no more than ten feet wide," says Randall. "You've got skis and poles going different directions, and you don't know the winner until they lunge for the finish."

Randall captured the overall World Cup sprint title in 2012, then repeated last year while also winning the gold in the sprint ­relay at the World Championships with teammate Jessie Diggins. Known for her aggressive approach to training—in high school, her cross-country-running teammates dubbed her the Kikkanimal—she credits her success to a distinctive fitness regimen, which mixes long hours of endurance work with Olympic weight lifting.

Twice a week, Randall, who's five feet five inches and 135 pounds, with Adonis abs and prize-fighter biceps, completes a series of power cleans and snatches. She also does pull-ups with a 60-pound weight dangling from her waist. "Going into the 2011 season, I began working with a strength coach, and that's when my results picked up," she says. "I've noticed a new level of power in my skiing."

To prepare for the Olympics, Randall, who finished eighth in the sprint at the 2010 Games, has been helicoptering from ­Anchorage, Alaska, out to the Eagle Glacier, where in July her coaches built a replica of the Sochi sprint course. "There will still be some wild cards when we get there," she says. "But I'll be ready."

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Why America Will Dominate Bobsledding at Sochi 2014

Germany has dominated Olympic bobsledding for years, winning eight gold medals at the past five Games. How do you beat them? Hire BMW to build your sled. In 2011, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation asked the automaker to develop the fastest bobsled ever built.

Engineers used technology similar to what was used in BMW’s Formula One race cars to craft a hull from carbon fiber and synthetic laminate (instead of the more commonly used fiberglass), to reduce weight and vibration and allow the sled’s driver to rattle less and focus more.

They also scanned the bodies of two of the team’s bobsledders to produce mannequins for testing and to fine-tune the sled’s ergonomics for more precise steering. So how much faster are the new models? BMW won’t say. But it’s a good bet that if Team USA wins a medal, there will be hefeweizen at the after-party.

Besides a new ride, the U.S. men’s bobsled team has one more powerful tool for reaching the podium: Steven Langton’s lower half. The six-foot-two, 225-pound Langton, 30, anchors both the two- and four-man teams, and has emerged as a dominant force in the sport. His explosive start-line pushes enabled him to capture the U.S.’s first World Championship gold medal, with pilot Steven Holcomb, in 2012.

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The Scariest Trick at the Sochi Olympics

For the 30 men competing in the first-ever Olympic halfpipe skiing event on February 13, at Russia’s Rosa Khutor Resort, winning a gold medal will almost certainly require landing a trick called the unnatural double cork 1260. What’s involved: two off-axis flips with three and a half rotations in the skier’s unnatural spinning direction.

"From a difficulty standpoint, the unnatural dub 12 is right at the top," says Josh Loubek, head judge of the Olympic halfpipe competi-tion. So far only three skiers have pulled it off in competition.

David Wise, of Reno, Nevada, was the first to land the trick while competing, in 2011, and is the gold-medal favorite. Fellow American Alex Ferreira and Canadian Justin Dorey added the trick to their arsenals last winter, and a handful of other skiers were feverishly practicing it on air bags this past fall.

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Our Predictions for America's Top Olympic Skiers of 2014

America’s top alpine skiers will undoubtedly make their mark in Sochi. but based on past performances, their impact may have more to do with off-the-slopes shenanigans than on-the-hill heroics. Here, predictions of the coming drama.


The Malcontent: Ted Ligety, 29


On the Slopes: Gold medal trifecta! Ligety takes the giant slalom, super-G, and combined.

Off the Slopes: Despite newfound glory, opts to continue his war against the sport’s governing body over ski regulations, composing a novella-length blog post that includes 93 technical footnotes. Immediately after the Games, announces he has signed the entire Austrian team to Shred Optics, his ski-gear brand.

The Maverick: Julia Mancuso, 29


On the Slopes: Beats expectations—again—by medaling in the super-G and downhill.

Off the Slopes: Après hot-tub selfie on Instagram earns her a rebuke from the U.S. Ski Team for showing “too much side boob.” Stays one step ahead of the paparazzi by tweeting that she is back together with ex-boyfriend and Norwegian superskier Aksel Lund Svindal before they actually get back together.


The New Kid: Mikaela Shiffrin, 18



On the Slopes: Wins gold in slalom and bronze in giant slalom, making her the youngest woman to medal in either event in Olympic history.

Off the Slopes: Expands her role as the face of energy candy by landing sponsorship with a new brand of protein-enhanced Skittles called Super Chompers, then abruptly cancels the contract when her pet reindeer, Rudolf, ODs on the things.


The Loose Cannon: Bode Miller, 36



On the Slopes: Charges hard and crashes harder, finishing way out of medal contention.

Off the Slopes: Gives an utterly bizarre (and totally awesome) post-race interview with Bob Costas, in which he confesses that during his GS run he “decided to become a zookeeper.” Later, challenges his wife, pro volleyballer Morgan Beck, to a Chinese downhill, which ends badly when he accidentally jams his pole into her thigh.

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