KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, has charged through the opening stage of a new ski racing season with customary success, winning once and finishing second and third in her two other races.
But this year, for the first time in her career, Shiffrin has not had her mother, Eileen Shiffrin, constantly at her side as her primary coach and nearly year-round traveling partner. For the last seven years, the two have been a rare and much-chronicled combination that has produced unprecedented and historic results in a perilous sport. This season, Eileen has stepped away from her on-hill coaching and training role to remain at home in Colorado, a decision that Mikaela and Eileen said was mutual and borne of discussions after the recent death of Eileen’s mother, Pauline Condron.
“We sat and talked a lot about family and being home, and regrets really,” Shiffrin, 24, said Friday night at the Killington resort, where she was preparing for two World Cup races this weekend. “We felt like it was important for her to get back to her life. But it’s not easy for either of us.”
In a telephone interview Saturday after her daughter finished third in a World Cup giant slalom race, Eileen Shiffrin said that the death of her mother, who was 98, caused her to re-evaluate some of her priorities and responsibilities.
“There are other people in our family I have to pay attention to,” Eileen said, mentioning her husband, Jeff, and son, Taylor. “People are not around forever. And it will be good for Mikaela to learn to do more coaching of herself without me being around. She also has an entire staff already in place.”
For several years, Mikaela Shiffrin has had two full-time U.S. ski team coaches, Mike Day and Jeff Lackie, who have worked in tandem with Eileen Shiffrin, a former ski racer who has coached Mikaela since she was 3 years old.
The Shiffrins have planned and tried to reduce Eileen’s role in recent years. There have been separations that were expected to last, including a low-key trial in 2015. But that year, when Shiffrin went to a World Cup race in Sweden and tore a knee ligament while training before the event, Eileen was back in the traveling party after Mikaela returned to racing. The two have been on the road together navigating the globe-trotting World Cup circuit since 2012 when Mikaela became a regular on the tour as a 16-year-old. Mikaela won the first of her 61 World Cup races that season and is now the three-time defending World Cup overall champion, seemingly on her way to shattering every Alpine racing record.
“People have asked me, ‘What’s your secret?’ Well, it’s my mom. Isn’t it obvious?” Mikaela said Friday. “She was the advantage I had that no one else had, and she gave me that edge over everyone else. But I felt like I couldn’t ask her to do it anymore.”
Both Shiffrins referred to the change as a transition, and Mikaela said that she was especially relieved when she won a slalom last weekend in Levi, Finland, without her mother there to coach her on the hill.
“It was a big relief because that’s the first World Cup or Olympic or world championship win that she has not been at,” Mikaela said. “It was a test, and I obviously had a good race and was able to do what I needed to do to stay focused.
“And even if she’s not here with me every step of the way, we’re still FaceTiming every night and talking about skiing. It’s just different.”
Eileen, who expects to visit Mikaela during some European races next month, predicted that the “ups and downs” of the new arrangement would lead to “Mikaela coming out stronger on the other side of this.”
“I wouldn’t judge things based on wins but more on how I learn to do some of these things for myself, which is also very important,” she said. “It’s going to be a process.”
On Saturday, Eileen watched the giant slalom race at the Killington resort from the stands with her husband. The race had been considered a rematch of the season-opener in Austria, when Alice Robinson, a 17-year-old from New Zealand, earned an upset victory over Shiffrin. But Marta Bassino of Italy won this time; Robinson slid off the racecourse early on Saturday with about 10 gates remaining.
At a post-race news conference, Shiffrin smiled and said: “I enjoyed today. And I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
The World Cup tour continues Sunday with a slalom, Shiffrin’s specialty.