"Purpose" - Cortina d'Ampezzo SG & Spindleruv-Mlyn SL
Is purpose what makes the difference ? Is it that nearly un-evaluatable thing that distinguishes one being’s performance from another’s ? I say nearly un-evaluatable, because, for humans, there are a limitless number of different purposes that we may connect with during our passage through life. One purpose may not connect us completely to our true abilities like another one might. It can be seen, but it can't be known what exactly it is, just by looking. How does one find it ? We must be open to observation to feel what it is that unlocks those performative moments that change life forever. I can understand why baseball players are so damn superstitious - never make a change when things are going well. I’m like that about my ski socks now. I tried skiing in different socks twice this season, and it was enough of a distraction that I won’t do it again. And I’m down to 2 pair !! how long can they survive ?? (Stance - Jimmy Chin 2 ultralights XL. they don’t make them anymore - HELP)
It’s undeniable that Mikaela Schiffrin displays one of the highest connections to her purpose of anyone on the World Cup right now. One might even say her current level of commitment and focus to be in the realm of meta-purpose. It hasn’t been wholly consistent through recent seasons, even this season. I have to wonder how much Lindsay Vonn’s somewhat recent social media input has had on that. Specifically, the list Lindsay put out as Mikaela prepared to supplant Lindsay’s record of World Cup wins. I can understand Lindsay cementing, at the time she released it, that she was still the top of the Alpine top. Her career was amazing and I always loved watching her ski. So Powerful, So driven, So good. But her list was interesting. She chose to include several other skiing disciplines in the list, but not all of the skiing disciplines. I had to wonder why she left out ski-jumping when she included Cross-country skiing and Telemark skiing. No doubt Swiss telemark skier Amélie Reymond with 158 World Cup victories is amazingly impressive. I looked up the Ski Jumping wins and Sara Takanashi(JPN) has the most World Cup Ski Jumping wins at a more than respectable 63. So by Lindsay’s criteria, skiers with more than 80 wins, the vacancy on the list makes sense. But I was still left wondering what her purpose was… and if she was wholly aware of that purpose. I certainly do not know the answer to that, but her post still seemed to have an exceedingly competitive element to it, a ‘raising of the bar’ (for Mikaela) by including stats that Lindsay herself was never compared to. Of course, she may have just been giving props to some other amazing athletes that do not commonly get widespread recognition. But, if it was an element of ‘sour grapes’ how did this affect Shiffrin’s purpose? Not long after, Mikaela renewed her focus with a once again dominating presence, and released her aggressive plan to do 11 race runs in 10 days. Perhaps she just wants this monkey off her back before the World Championships - and wants to put the whole thing to bed. Perhaps their relationship is nothing but positive - I’ll probably never know, because Mikaela, whether full of grace or meta-focused, generally engages with the positive.
Mikaela is not the only one skiing with purpose out there, showing us every time they hit the snow. Wendy Holdener is full of fire after crowning her long career with a couple wins. That’ll give purpose ! Marco Odermatt has come back from his questionable status after the Hahnenkamm, with a smilingly-disarming Super-G vengeance - completely destroying all questions about how close Kilde was getting on points. Saturday, he skied amazingly. Then today, he made his Saturday performance look pedestrian, skiing turn shapes nobody else could hold, at the highest speeds of the entire field for the day. His finesse and foresight completely disarmed Kilde’s power this weekend - like the finest spanish swordsman disarming a phalanx of axe wielding berserkers with agility and ease - making it look as if they defeated themselves. The Swiss are so relieved. I just find it stunningly fun to witness the individuality of these athletes - how they each do it their way. Kilde ran a couple bibs after Marco today and it’s possible he had some knowledge that got into his head.
I have to, once again, feel for one of my favourites - Dominik Paris - who so often does ski with that engrossing sense of purpose - though less often since his injuries. I do know something about how injuries can infect commitment-to-purpose, getting in there to create doubt… eroding that once unquestionable trust that makes it so easy to do the aggressive move in the most demanding of situations - because it always worked before. Dominik skied in that beautiful zone today - 1st out of the start, down the Tofana-Schuss, which skied way faster today - he jumped into the flats so perfectly on his line, and so balanced - a harbinger that he was indeed connected to his purpose today. 2nd is not a bad thing, but I’m sure he cannot help but compare himself to Odermatt who bested his time by a huge .76. I was also curious to see Christof Innerhofer ski today - after yesterday, when the former World Champ and Hahnenkamm Super-G (with a broken fibula) winner, was in the middle of posting his best recent run - only to miscalculate one of the most important gates on the course, taking the turning pole in the chops mid-air, and getting violently dashed onto the surface then into the B-Netting. His nose and jaw were bloodied in the aftermath.
The set on Sunday in Cortina was super demanding and resulted in a fair amount of carnage. A Swiss named Nydegger was the setter. When I was coaching, our collective ethic was to set for a high finish rate. If there were a lot of DNFs, it wasn't a good set. But that was in a completely different venue. I do not know what the common ethos might be, or if there is one is among National Level coaches world-wide. I can hazard a guess as to the factual nature of the response a Swiss coach might give if somebody brought it up with him though. There were a lot of DNFs, ejections and course-holds while racers were extracted from the netting. Kilde skied out. Quite a few of the Swiss hopefuls who have been doing well were not up to today’s level of challenge. I hope Trevor Philp is ok. If anyone who has ever seen that old movie "ACL-Awareness", made by a panel of doctors who used existing footage of ski accidents known to have caused ACL ruptures - you’ll recognize some of the components they pointed out in his accident. The safety team came down with what the English (in their tabloid-esque fashion) call a ‘Blood Wagon’ - to toboggan him off the course.
So this purpose thing has made me think about team USA - on the mens’ side, which had some decent results at Kitzbühel. But what has been affecting them these recent-past seasons ? Ryan Chochran-Siegle and Bryce Bennett do have recent-ish speed wins. Ryan is an Olympic medalist. But I just have to say that recently, though his skiing looks technically fine, there has been something missing from his skiing when compared to that brief period (on the World Cup Circuit) when he was looking to become the current generation’s Bode Miller. I don’t throw that out there lightly, this idea, because it really does seem how it works in U.S. skiing. We have to have Superman and Wonder Woman. The team goes through periods when there isn’t one sometimes. I wonder if this paradigm is a tough one to excel in - but also if that truly is the point of it. Not about Depth like Austria, Norway or Switzerland - but about putting everything into that one exceptional athlete. In the spectator areas at mens’ events - when I hear American voices - “RCS” is usually in the sentence or phrase. Anyway - I sometimes go on about how the Olympics thing gets so much pressure and focus in the American Psyche - and how World Cup skiing sort of doesn’t really exist in that psyche - except for in the subculture. But little do a lot of Americans know, that every ski racer is a Hero over here. The French love it when “Lucky” Luke Winters takes to the course. There is a small Austrian town - without a ski natural-born ski racer to call their own - that has a Ted Ligety Fan Club. The announcers here pay attention to the stats of American ski racers and as their careers come to a close, ascribe an overall character to the effect their careers have had on ski racing - even if they weren’t The Superman, they were a superman.
Someone once told a group that I was a part of that, to perform really good Movement Analysis, you have to look ‘through the skier.’ I might be starting to understand. If I merely look at technique - it can be hard to figure out why one racer is faster than the other - but if I look for purpose, it is plainly evident. Take Anna Swenn Larson’s first run today in Spindleruv-Mlyn, She connected to it as she reached the middle flat section and wow did she have a great run after - but above that connection, she was searching. The difference is visible. The Crioatiennes are absolutely killing it. Zrinka Ljutic, 19 yrs old with a first WC podium ! I cried during Mikaela’s run. I thought she might pull it off - to connect like she did on her first run - But Lena Duerr, for her 4th podium this season - was the more connected one. The first German slalom win in 11 years, since Maria Höfl-Riesch won in Levi 2012. The announcer pointed out, as Mikaela stood in the start, that this start may be the most consequential one of her career. Wow - think of facing that as you look down the course. Interestingly enough, USA set Run 1 and Germany set Run 2 ! But don't skip the Slalom if my post has spoilered the results for you. The skiing was great by a lot of athletes. There's a lot to see, and it is making the run-up to the World Championships really interesting.