Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

By Michelle Kaufman, The Miami Herald

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The sleet and hail were getting heavier, rain-drenched fans scurried for cover at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center Tuesday afternoon, but Jeff Shiffrin, peeking out from his sopping wet jacket, didn’t seem in any hurry to leave.

His daughter, 18-year-old Mikaela, had just placed fifth in her Olympic giant slalom debut. She finished a half-second behind Slovenian gold medalist Tina Maze (2:36.87) and .23 of a second from a bronze medal. Anna Fenninger of Austria won silver and defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany took bronze.

Considering Shiffin’s strongest event is the slalom, which is yet to come on Friday, her father had nothing but praise for her. He greeted her Tuesday morning no differently than he had before any other race of her life: “Good morning, Mikaela. Have fun today. Bye. That’s it.”

He delighted in watching his daughter come down an Olympic slope (well, what he could see of it, anyway, with the bad weather).

“I’m sticking with the same old line from the last 20 years, what it’s about is seeing her come through with a smile and do the best job she can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s here or the training hill. When it goes really well here – and it went almost really well today, it’s super exciting. Those are the magical moments that take your breath away.”

Shiffrin was still smiling as she met with reporters after her two runs.

“It was a pretty spectacular day,” she said. “It’s not sunny, but on the other hand, who gets to race their first Olympics in rain this bad when there’s still snow on the ground, right?”

She said the messy conditions reminded her of Vermont, where she attended Burke Mountain Academy, a school for elite skiers.

“It’s pretty much exactly what I can remember from Vermont, which isn’t fair because there were also a lot of nice days,” she said. “But you remember the worst days. This wasn’t necessarily the worst case scenario. The visibility was better than I thought it was going to be and the conditions were really good for how much it’s precipitating. It was a pretty fair race. I’m really in awe of the top three girls.”

Driving snow and freezing rain delayed the second run for 15 minutes and course workers spread salt over the course to firm up the snow, which was already a bit slushy from last week’s warm, sunny weather.

“These are the kinds of conditions that years of experience help you with,” Jeff Shiffrin said. “All sorts of different conditions, raining and fog. I think some of the older ladies were able to turn that a little to their advantage.”

Shiffrin arrived to high expectations here as Team USA’s alpine “It Girl.” With the absence of injured Lindsey Vonn, the spotlight turned to Shiffrin, who has had remarkable success for a skier her age. She was one of the featured athletes on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview.