Shiffrin and Pinturault target combined after super-G boost

Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy) (AFP) –


Mikaela Shiffrin has never been a ski racer to admit, at least publically, that records interest her.

Her esoteric approach to racing -- sometimes deflecting questions of medal hauls to wax lyrical about a turn she nailed in training -- is sometimes difficult for outsiders to fully understand.

But the 25-year-old's next step in her already storied career continues Monday when she is hot favourite to take the women's alpine combined title at the world ski championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Should Shiffrin make the podium, she will move ahead of former US teammate Lindsey Vonn as the American skier with most world medals.

She had a massive boost by picking up a bronze in Thursday's super-G, a discipline which makes up one half of the combined, the second being a slalom, her speciality.

"I had a couple of really great days super-G training in the last two weeks and we came here, I had a good plan and I was able to execute it for the most part everywhere," Shiffrin said after her medal showing on the Olympia delle Tofana course last week.

It also came as a boost following a season botched by the sudden death of her father Jeff and Covid-19 cancellations which saw her spend 300 days away from the piste.

Shiffrin, a three-time World Cup overall champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who has also won five gold world championship medals, added that she was always now trying to ski free of expectations.

"The goal is to not have expectations anyway because the only thing that does is put pressure on you and then it’s harder to produce the right skiing when you have the pressure," she said.

"I have the plan, I want to ski and execute that and just focus on that because it’s the only way I am going to enjoy the day and coming down to the finish.

"And experiencing it like that it’s just a reminder that no matter what event I do having that mentality is always going to be more fun."

- Title defence a must -

Shiffrin will face tough competition Monday from Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, out to defend her two world combined titles, from Are in 2019 and St Moritz in 2017.

"I am really positive for the countdown," said Holdener, who also claimed the combined bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

"I love to change disciplines. I wouldn’t be an athlete just for one discipline so it fits me well. I have to defend my title, my double title. Pretty cool to do three in-a-row."

Another Swiss racer, Michelle Gisin, a 2017 world combined silver medallist who won 2018 Olympic gold ahead of Shiffrin and Holdener, will surely be in the running for a podium finish in the event.

Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, who leads the current World Cup overall standings, is also a proven all-rounder, having won combined silver in Are and showing up well in speed events this season.

France's hopes for a gold will never be higher as Alexis Pinturault aims to defend his title in the men's combined, also on Monday after rescheduling because of heavy snow.

He, like Shiffrin, will take to the piste on the back of a bronze in the super-G.

"Claiming this bronze medal is something really special and I’m pretty proud about how I handled the day," Pinturault said.

"This slope is pretty nice because it can suit all the athletes in the start."

The Frenchman, who has 10 victories and 15 podiums in the 27 combined events in which he has competed in his 10-year career, admitted that his outing in the super-G had been twofold.

"The first one was to discover this slope for the combined and also trying my best for the super-G," he said.

"So it was a really good day taking good information (for the combined) and also making a great performance."