Shiffrin returns to racing next week
Two months ago, Mikaela Shiffrin was just hoping to be back on skis before the snow melted.
A week from now, she will return to World Cup racing on a knee that healed much faster than even she anticipated.
The Olympic and world slalom champion announced she will compete next Monday in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, for the first time since tearing a ligament in her right knee in December. She said Monday on her Facebook page: "See ya in a week!"
Originally, the American racer was targeting a March return for the World Cup finals in St. Moritz, Switzerland — if she could get back this season at all.
"I'm a racer at heart," Shiffrin said through ski sponsor Atomic. "I belong in the starting gate."
With only three slalom races left — along with a parallel event this month in Stockholm that counts in the slalom standings — the three-time defending champion still has a slim mathematical chance to retain her crown in the discipline. She trails slalom leader Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 305 points.
Shiffrin won two slaloms this season — both in Aspen, Colorado, and both by big margins — before a training mishap in Sweden two months ago interrupted her season. Her right ski slipped during a giant slalom practice run and then her knee buckled before hitting some grippy snow that caused her to hyperextend her knee and skid into the protective netting. She suffered a torn medial collateral ligament and bone bruise.
"I never thought that I would have an injury because I have always worked as hard as I can to prevent injuries," said Shiffrin, who is from Eagle-Vail, Colorado. "I rarely fall when I'm skiing. If I'm scared in a situation, training or racing, I would tend to slow myself down before taking the risks and crash hard.
"I am lucky that I hurt two of the things in my knee that can heal on their own really well. If I had hurt my ACL or meniscus and needed surgery, I think this would have been a lot more difficult for me. But I have thought about my knee like a big cut on my leg or something."
Shiffrin made her speed debut in Lake Louise, Alberta, this season and finished 15th during a super-G race won by teammate Lindsey Vonn. Before her injury, Shiffrin and Vonn were considered the top contenders for the overall title, especially with Tina Maze taking the season off and defending champ Anna Fenninger sidelined with a knee injury.
Now, it appears to be a contest between Vonn and Lara Gut.
While away, Shiffrin said she watched every men's and women's World Cup race.
"I would pretend that I was skiing it and figure out how I might ski it differently than the other girls," said Shiffrin, who turns 21 next month.
Shiffrin returned to snow in late January with some easy drills. Steadily, she ramped up her training and recently went through gates.
"I had to keep my speeds really slow so I didn't put too much force through the joint," explained Shiffrin, who will train in Colorado until later this week before flying to Switzerland. "We just wanted to see how my knee responded to being on skis and snow before putting energy into the ski."
She said she never really considered sitting out this season, even though that could have protected her starting position for 2016-17.
"No matter how it effects my start order, I would really regret knowing that I was 100 percent and ready to race and decided not to anyway," Shiffrin said.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.