American slalom sensation Mikaela Shiffrin offers her Top Tips on staying composed and avoiding distractions in order to excel

Mikaela Shiffrin has lofty expectations for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, which is hardly surprising considering the dream season she’s enjoying.  The 22-year-old US ski racer has been practically unbeatable in slalom and giant slalom, has become a significant threat in downhill and super-G, and her overall FIS World Cup lead is nearly insurmountable.

The defending Olympic slalom champion admits to having battled extreme nerves prior to races for much of her brilliant career, but believes that she has now discovered the right pre-race formula to perform at her absolute best. TV cameras have caught Shiffrin taking naps prior to runs and even demonstrating yoga poses on the mountain, but it all seems to be working and she generally looks more relaxed during final preparations before entering the starting gates.

“I am definitely figuring it out – there are races where I am nervous, but I’m able to handle it better and pull out some of my best skiing,” Shiffrin tells Athlete365. “I’m always feeling some sort of pre-race jitters or adrenaline, but it’s not nearly as bad as it has been. It’s not a paralysing fear; it’s just normal adrenaline.

“It all boils down to finding the right mental state to perform. Find your routine and stick with it no matter what the circumstances are,” she adds.

Here, Shiffrin, who could compete in up to five Alpine skiing events in PyeongChang, shares what she’s learned about pre-competition preparation.

Find really good music
I listen to music that pumps me up, yet relaxes me. If you have a song that you like, but it kind of gets you anxious, that’s the wrong direction. You need something that is somewhere between pumping you up, but also focusing and calming you in a way. I have a playlist of about 15 songs that work. I often listen to the pianist Ludovico Einaudi. The piano music has a nice rhythm and flow and gets me in the zone.”

Surround yourself with the right people
“Surround yourself with people who make you feel more confident, but tell you the truth. People who don’t give you false confidence, but tell you what you need to hear in order to perform your best, while making you feel safe and secure. I have my mom and my coaches around me all the time. When I look at them, talk to them and hear their voices, I feel like I am in a good place.”

Don’t let other athletes become a distraction
After course inspection and in between runs, all the skiers are waiting together in the lodge. Everyone has their own style to get psyched up – a lot of athletes are talking to each other and laughing, while some athletes are really quiet. You need to find the mentality to perform at your best, while not falling into the trap of chatting with someone and getting distracted. Be friendly, but don’t let their mentality change your mentality.”

Stay focused when necessary
“Make sure that you’re genuinely focused when you need to be. During [course] inspection, I need to make sure that I’m focusing. If I’m standing at one part of the course, looking at a gate and I feel distracted by another athlete or something gets into my head, I need to stay there and wait until I can re-focus – and then link it together with my visualisation to actually do something good in the race.”

Allow sufficient time to prepare
“Give yourself enough time before starting so that you are ready when you’re in the gate. You can give yourself an hour or you can give yourself 10 minutes, but you need to find your ideal amount of time to start warming up, to focus, to listen to your music and then be ready to go. Don’t rush, but don’t take too much time either. Find your ideal sweet spot.”

For more expert advice on performing under pressure, go to the Athlete Learning Gateway and take the course “Sports Psychology – Getting in the Zone”