The sky’s the limit for Mikaela Shiffrin after winning a record 17 World Cup races last season.
And not just because she reached lofty heights as a passenger in an F-16 jet with the Air Force’s Thunderbirds this offseason, either.
The 24-year-old ski racer from Colorado isn’t saying she can replicate that kind of success on the slopes again.
She’s not saying she can’t, either.
Shiffrin is thinking big as she heads into a season where she will be counted on to carry her sport even more with the retirements of stars like Lindsey Vonn , Marcel Hirscher and Aksel Lund Svindal.
Although, Shiffrin doesn’t view it as pressure so much as an opportunity — for her and others.
“We really have a lot of great athletes, great personalities,” Shiffrin said as the World Cup season gets set to open Saturday with the women’s giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria. “Some of the other women, some of the other men, they are going to be excited that they can be stars.”
Make no mistake: The three-time overall World Cup winner is the undisputed face of the sport with Vonn and Svindal announcing their retirements a while back, and Hirscher revealing his decision to step away last month after winning eight overall titles. He captured 67 of his 245 World Cup races, trailing only Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Vonn (82) on the all-time list.
“I do feel like all of these retirements have definitely sort of rocked the boat a bit in the ski-racing world,” said Shiffrin, who’s won 60 World Cup races in 157 starts. “For me, Marcel’s retirement, so far that’s one of the most impactful ... I’ve really, really looked up to him and been inspired by his skiing for so long.”
She plans to sprinkle in a few more speed events this season since there are no Olympics or world championships. It’s a way to test her limits.
“But I’m going to take the same mindset of listening to my body and see how it’s feeling,” the two-time Olympic champion said.
It’s an approach that served her well last season. A quick recap:
— With her first super-G victory at Lake Louise last December, Shiffrin became the first athlete in FIS World Cup history to win in all six disciplines.
— Earned her fourth-straight slalom title at the world championships in Are, Sweden.
— Finished with 17 World Cup wins to eclipse the mark for most in a season (14) that was held by Vreni Schneider.
For the 2019-20 season, she said she’s setting realistic goals because, “who in their right mind can expect to keep repeating that forever?” Shiffrin cracked of her recent success.
“I may be not always in my right mind so if anyone would expect that it would be me,” she added. “I talked a lot last year about not really paying attention to expectations and sort of knowing there’s a difference between expectations versus standards and trying to keep my standards of my own skiing high and not having expectations. For whatever reason, that mindset clicked for me last year.”
So, she will keep that tactic.
“How do I out-do myself?” Shiffrin said. “Every year is different. You don’t know who worked harder and got better. You have to roll with it and see what’s possible. It’s very unpredictable. That can be nerve-wracking.”
As for how long she plans to compete, well, it’s based on various factors such as health and enjoyment.
“My motivation doesn’t come from breaking records,” said Shiffrin, whose mom/coach Eileen plans to accompany her as often as she can (Eileen’s also helping care for Shiffrin’s grandmother). “I still find so much joy from skiing, and feeling my turns getting better and improving. As long as that’s there, I’m ready to keep going.
“I don’t really have a timeline. I don’t know if I’m going to make it until I’m 30 or if I’m going to retire before that or after that. I probably don’t see myself going well beyond 30. But at same time, if I’m at that point and I’m still having an absolute blast and still reaching my own ... standards of skiing, I’ll keep going.”
It was an eventful offseason for Shiffrin, who found time between training sessions to get settled into her new house , be a presenter with NBA rookie Zion Williamson at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards and experience g-forces as a passenger on board an F-16.
“That was insane,” Shiffrin said of her aircraft ride-along. “That’s probably going to top my list of wildest things I’ve done — or will do.”
Associated Press Writer Eric Willemsen contributed to this report.