Alpine skiing: Shiffrin up to speed for first worlds of pandemic era


A snowplough removes snow in the finish area ahead of the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

(Reuters) - Mikaela Shiffrin will be back up to speed when the Alpine skiing world championships hit the slopes in Cortina d'Ampezzo on Monday.

The American has raced 10 times and won twice on the World Cup circuit since November, when she returned after a break of 300 days following the death of her father, but only in the technical disciplines.

She has not competed in any speed races since winning a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, in January 2020.

The Italian Dolomite resort -- hosting the first major winter sports event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic -- will end that wait.

An Alpine combined (super-G and slalom leg) starts the action on Monday before Shiffrin seeks to defend her 2019 individual super-G title on Tuesday.

The giant slalom and slalom are on her schedule the week after -- making a first for the 25-year-old who has previously limited herself to no more than three individual events at an Olympics or worlds.

There will be no cheering, cow-bell clanging crowds at the finish line, with the two-week championships -- involving 71 nations and 600 athletes -- without spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Shiffrin is also the world champion at slalom and will be chasing an unprecedented fifth title in succession.

The speed events at the 2026 Winter Olympic co-host venue are the bigger challenge but even if Shiffrin has said she sees them more as a training opportunity, her record speaks for itself.

In nine races at four previous championships she has won seven medals (five golds, a silver and a bronze).

"When you ski at a big event, you go for a medal, you go for gold. That's the only tactic," the reigning Olympic giant slalom champion told reporters. "Whether or not I get any medals, that's still the same tactic, the same mentality."

Swiss rival Lara Gut-Behrami may face more pressure as the form skier in women's super-G having won the last four races. She has yet to win gold at a major event, with three silvers and two bronzes to date.

Italian Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, would have been the overwhelming favourite in the showcase speed race but will be absent after suffering a knee injury in Germany at the end of January.

Compatriot and reigning overall World Cup champion Federica Brignone is aiming for four disciplines, however, after a low-key season so far while Marta Bassino has won four giant slaloms.

Slovakia's giant slalom world champion Petra Vlhova leads the overall World Cup and slalom standings, adding to the challenge Shiffrin faces in the technical events.

On the men's side, Italy's super-G champion Dominik Paris won the last World Cup downhill before Cortina but the Austrians and Swiss are looking strong with Matthias Mayer and Beat Feuz respectively.

Norway's reigning World Cup champion Aleksander Aaamodt Kilde was ruled out by a knee injury last month with France's Alexis Pinturault leading the overall standings ahead of Cortina.

Combined world champion Pinturault will be fancied in combined and the technical disciplines with Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen seeking to defend his giant slalom title.

The men's programme starts with a super-G on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

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