ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Over hot chocolate, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin recently had their first real heart-to-heart chat.
Among the topics discussed in a New Zealand coffee shop were family, friends, “girl stuff” — as Shiffrin put it — and, of course, ski racing.
Throughout the season, these two American teammates could very well be at the top of the overall standings. Might come down to the very end, too.
No bitterness, they maintain. No nastiness, either. Just a robust rivalry.
“How will it be going head-to-head? It’s exciting to find out,” said the 20-year-old Shiffrin, who will be a big favorite in a World Cup giant slalom race Friday on home snow, along with two slalom events over the weekend. “If we were to go head-to-head, I have a feeling it could be one of those things where she’s not going to give it to me and I’m sure as heck not going to give it to her.”
For years, Shiffrin was touted as the next Vonn. Well, Shiffrin’s fulfilled those lofty expectations, capturing the slalom title at the 2013 world championships, Olympic gold in the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games and then defending her world title last February in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
This season, Shiffrin ventures into Vonn’s territory by adding some speed events, beginning next week with a super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta.
Among those who believe Shiffrin’s ready for the jump to speed is Vonn.
“She’s just a great skier and she’s obviously extremely talented,” said the 31-year-old Vonn, who’s healed from breaking her left ankle three months ago in training and a bite on her right thumb that required stitches after breaking up a fight between her dogs. “She has such a great touch on snow and such a solid technique.
“I’m sure she’s going to do phenomenal in speed as well.”
High praise from Vonn, the four-time overall champion. Then again, she doesn’t see this rivalry as anything but healthy.
Being a decade older than Shiffrin, Vonn wants to be a “resource” for her young compatriot.
“We both have a lot of respect for each other,” said Vonn, the all-time winningest female World Cup racer who will compete only in the GS this weekend. “We’ll see how the season shapes up. It would be really great for ski racing if two Americans were fighting for the overall.”
The paths of Shiffrin and Vonn haven’t crossed all that much over the years. That’s partly because of Vonn’s serious knee injury, which kept her out of the Sochi Games. And when Vonn has been back, they’ve traveled in different circles since Shiffrin works so closely with the technical side.
That’s why Vonn invited Shiffrin out for cocoa during training over the summer. A chance to get better acquainted.
Vonn’s take on their meeting: “It was a really nice conversation. It wasn’t anything in particular. Just kind of a nice, easy conversation.”
Shiffrin was flattered a skier she’s long considered one of her idols wanted to sit down with her.
“Lindsey’s made more sacrifices than anybody else in order to get the job done,” Shiffrin said. “I respect that a lot.”
With defending overall champion Anna Fenninger sidelined by a knee injury and Tina Maze taking a break, that opens the door for a Vonn-Shiffrin showdown.
“If she beats me for the overall, you know what, cheers to that,” Shiffrin said. “It’s like, ‘You’re a really good ski racer and a really good athlete and there’s a reason you’re winning.’ Hopefully, I’ll be able to give her some good competition.”
Off to a great start. Shiffrin finished second in the giant slalom last month in Soelden, Austria. Valuable points, especially with Vonn skipping it to give her ankle more time to mend.
Shiffrin believes she can be on the podium in all three races this weekend. No American has finished in the top three during a World Cup race at Aspen since Julia Mancuso was third in 2011. What’s more, no American has won at this venue since Tamara McKinney in 1981.
“The podium is definitely a possibility. Maybe more than a possibility,” Shiffrin said. “But things have to line up.”
By Pat Graham, AP
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