Shiffrin tackles Levi slaloms with new fire in her belly, says coach

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USA's Mikaela Shiffrin (AFP/Joe Klamar)
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US ski star Mikaela Shiffrin makes her return to the snow in the Finnish resort of Levi this weekend with new fire in her belly, according to her coach.

The three-time former World Cup overall winner opened up her season by dominating the giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.

It was a dazzling 70th World Cup win for Shiffrin, who said at the time, however, that she felt rusty and then sat out Lech with an ongoing back problem.

After a couple of tough years, including the death of her father in an accident, Shiffrin will race two slalom races in Levi -- her favourite discipline.

"Things that have occurred in her life have definitely changed her," coach Mike Day told AFP.

"The tragedy of losing her father will affect her for ever. But Soelden showed some fire we haven't seen since Bansko right before the tragedy."

- Head in the clouds -

Day explained Shiffrin had struggled to concentrate last season, when there was "a lot of time in the cloud", saying she had turned to non-ski specific coaches to help her mentally.

Shiffrin finished fourth in last season's overall standings, with a tally of three victories as she focused purely on technical events of slalom and giant slalom.

"She was struggling with simple things that were so easy for her in the past, like memorising courses," said Day, into his sixth season as Shiffrin's coach.

"She would get part way down a slalom course and not remember what was coming. These are the type of things we worked on, she has done a lot of work with some different coaches outside of ski racing to work on these things."

Day contended that with the Covid-19 pandemic added to the mix, Shiffrin "was not prepared for last season".

"On the mental side it was big and we lacked training. We went to last year less prepared by a long shot than any other season.

"But if Soelden is any indication, she has come a long way."

With that 70th career win in Austria, Shiffrin -- still only 26 -- is fast approaching two retired legends of the ski circuit in Swede Ingemar Stenmark and compatriot Lindsey Vonn, who have won 86 and 82 World Cup races respectively.

But back spasms have kept Shiffrin off the snow, the American saying she had only done 15% of her slalom training in the opening two weeks of November.

In Levi, where she has won the slalom four times in her career, Shiffrin will again face stiff competition in the shapes of Austria's world slalom champion Katharina Liensberger and Slovak Petra Vlhova, winner of last season's overall title.

Shiffrin will then return to the North American swing of the circuit, competing at Killington (USA) and speed events at Lake Louise (Canada) at the beginning of December.