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World Cup Action Kicks Off in Levi; Shiffrin Returns to Start Gate for First Time in 300 Days

By Megan Harrod
November, 19 2020
Mikaela Shiffrin
After 300 days, two-time Olympic champion and Land Rover ambassador Mikaela Shiffrin will return to the World Cup start gate in Levi, Finland. (Max Hall - U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

FIS Ski World Cup action returns this weekend, with a double-header slalom for the women on Nov. 21-22 in the Finnish Lapland of Levi, Finland. Not only are Santa and his reindeer excited, but the athletes are anxious to get back into the swing of things up here, 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Brrr, it’s cold up here...and the anticipation for World Cup action is rising, along with the stoke levels. 

Two-time Olympic champion and Land Rover ambassador Mikaela Shiffrin will return to the World Cup start gate for the first time in 300 days. Yes, you read that correctly. The last time Mikaela stepped into the start gate was January 26, 2020, in Bansko, Bulgaria. She walked away from that weekend amassing an impressive 250 World Cup points, with a downhill victory and a fourth place, as well as a super-G victory...on a speed track that was new to her before the weekend. That was win number 66, just one shy of Marcel Hirscher’s 67 victories (who sits third on the all-time win list). Shortly thereafter, Mikaela’s father Jeff tragically passed away. Mikaela returned to competition in Åre, Sweden, for the final race of the season, only to have it cancelled due to COVID-19. 

Despite missing nine races, Mikaela ended up second in the overall standings, second in the slalom standings (by just 20 points), third in the giant slalom standings, fifth in the downhill standings, and seventh in super-G standings. For the fourth-straight season, (again, despite missing nine races), Mikaela was the top earner in prize money on the World Cup circuit, among the men and women. During the offseason, Mikaela and her family (mother Eileen, and brother Taylor) worked with U.S. Ski & Snowboard and six generous families to launch the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund, in her father’s honor. This fund will help all athletes across all sports at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. After sitting the Soelden, Austria World Cup giant slalom out due to a back injury, Mikaela had a solid slalom training block at Official Training Site, Copper Mountain, Colo., and is looking forward to returning to World Cup action. 

The theme for Mikaela now is not only resilience, but also gratitude. When asked about her expectations for this weekend in a press conference on Thursday, she reminded media that she tries to "keep expectations really low, but my standards for the level of skiing that I want to bring are high. I want to ski well, which includes skiing fast." She continued, "No matter what, if I ski well, if I put in a good effort but it doesn’t go as I hoped, it is hard to be disappointed with that after everything,” in regards to her approach to the weekend. 

Though last season ended abruptly, she's not angry and it's not about settling scores for Mikaela. “I am incredibly angry, but not about the way last season ended. I am angry that my dad died, I am angry how lonely I feel most days,” she said. “But on the flip side, I am incredibly grateful that I have my mom here with me so often. I have never been a person to be motivated by anger...If I learned something over the last 300 days, it is that you really have to take what life serves you. It might not taste good, but you have to eat it anyway.”

Paula Moltzan earned herself a career-best top-10 at Soelden, Austria in the giant slalom, making it loud and clear she shall no longer be deemed a “slalom specialist,” and teammate Nina O’Brien—who had a career-best 15th-place giant slalom result in Soelden, both had an excellent training block in Europe. Prior to their journey to the Arctic Circle, they trained in Soelden, Austria, Schnalstal, Italy, Solda, Italy, and then when Italian ski resorts closed due to COVID-19 precautions, traveled onward to Davolezza, Switzerland. While in Solda, Paula and Nina competed in Italian Nationals, and Nina snagged a win in giant slalom, while Paula won the slalom and Nina followed in second place. 

The World Cup Tour has a new look amidst the global pandemic—one that involves safety protocol including mask-wearing, a FIS charter flight for the circuit, testing prior to departure and upon arrival at the Kittilä airport, social distancing, creating a “bubble” and more. When arriving at Kittilä, athletes and staff were briefed by the organizing committee, then underwent COVID-testing, waiting for the results prior to departure to their hotels. The gratitude of athletes and staff to the local organizing committee for creating a safe environment for racing was palpable. 

Paula mentioned on Thursday after training in Levi, that Levi resembles Lutsen, Minnesota—a venue in northern Minnesota (Paula grew up racing at Buck Hill in Minnesota). Coach Magnus Andersson said the surface is looking good, and with colder temperatures and a solid weather forecast on its way, it will set up nicely for race day. Paula and Nina worked hard in the gym in the offseason, building muscle and confidence that has set them up nicely for the season, and their training and race pace speaks for itself. Paula said she’s “looking forward to our couple’s retreat after Lech,” as new fiance and technician Ryan Mooney and Nina’s boyfriend (and U.S. Ski Team alumnus) Drew Duffy—who is helping on-hill—are traveling together as a little family this winter. 

2020 NorAm slalom champion Lila Lapanja and three-time Olympian Resi Stiegler will also be starting in Levi this weekend, having earned their World Cup start spots for 2020-21 through their 2019-20 NorAm results. Both women are so happy to be back on the World Cup circuit, after focusing their efforts on NorAms with their eyes on the prize of those coveted World Cup start spots. Resi would like to add that she and her German boyfriend David Ketterer (2017 GS and Slalom National Champion GS with the CU Buffs), who was formerly on the German National Team, have been living out of their van (named "DSCHINGIS") to socially distance and stay safe while training across European glaciers this summer/fall.

With five starters this weekend, it’ll be a deep crew and everyone is excited to be back in action! Make sure to tune in on NBCSN and the Olympic Channel, as well as Peacock for live streaming, to catch all of the action. 

Lila Lapanja
Paula Moltzan
Nina O'Brien
Mikaela Shiffrin
Resi Stiegler 

All times EST

Saturday, Nov. 21
4:15 a.m. - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom first run - LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock
7:00 a.m. - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom - LIVE, Levi, FIN Broadcast Olympic Channel
7:15 a.m. - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom second run - LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock

Sunday, Nov. 22
12:00 a.m. FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom - Same Day Delayed Broadcast, Levi, FIN, Broadcast, NBCSN
4:15 am - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom first run - LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock
7:00 a.m. - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom - LIVE, Levi, FIN, Broadcast Olympic Channel
7:15 a.m. - FIS Alpine World Cup Women's Slalom second run - LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock

Check out the full alpine streaming and broadcast schedule.

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