Mikaela Shiffrin skied into the history books Tuesday with her record-breaking 83rd World Cup victory, capturing the win in a giant slalom race in Kronplatz, Italy. She followed up Wednesday with win No. 84, taking the title in her second straight GS race. With five more World Cup stops and 13 races left on the calendar, Shiffrin is now tracking to break the all-time win record of 86, set by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark in 1989.
Winning more than 80 World Cup races is a nearly unattainable feat, reached by just three Alpine racers including Lindsey Vonn, who previously held the women’s record with 82. The numbers drop dramatically after Vonn, with just two ski racers – Austrians Marcel Hirscher (67) and Annemarie Moser-Proll (62) – winning more than 55 World Cup events.
U.S. Hall of Fame ski racer Barbara Ann Cochran, a three-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist in slalom at the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, knows just what an accomplishment Shiffrin has achieved this season, and she has a vested interest in watching this next generation of U.S. women skiers achieve new benchmarks. In December, Cochran joined a Facetime call with Shiffrin and Paula Moltzan after their historic one-two finish in a slalom at Semmering, Austria, where she shared a full-circle moment with the duo: It had been 51 years since two American women stood atop a World Cup slalom podium, and Cochran and her sister Marilyn were the last to do so in February 1971.
If the name Cochran sounds familiar, it’s because it is: Barbara Ann – now 72 — is the second of four Cochran siblings, affectionately referred to as “The Skiing Cochrans,” who hail from New Hampshire and run a family-owned ski area in Vermont named Cochran’s. Her father, Gordon “Mickey” Cochran, was a longtime coach, while Marilyn Cochran was a six-time World Cup winner and three-time national champion. Her brother, Bob Cochran, was also a World Cup winner and nine-time national champion, and youngest sister Lindy Cochran won two national titles. The family’s next generation includes son Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who won Olympic silver in Super-G last February in Beijing, and nephew and two-time U.S. Olympian Jimmy Cochran.
Cochran, who lives in Starksboro, Vt., where she runs B.A. Cochran Coaching, recently sat down with On Her Turf to talk history, share perspective on Shiffrin’s blistering season and her message to the rising women of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team.
This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
OHT: We were really inspired after seeing that you Facetimed with Mikaela and Paula after their one-two finish in Austria. Can you tell us about that moment and why that call was significant?
Barbara Ann Cochran: I’m so proud of them. And, and just, you know, like, it was just really, really exciting to see that happen. … It was really noisy in the lodge, so I had a hard time hearing them but basically, I was just saying, “Congratulations. This is just incredible. It’s awesome and so proud of you.” That was the essence of the message that I gave them.
OHT: We heard it was a bit of surprise news to you that this was the first one-two World Cup slalom finish for the Americans since you and your sister Marilyn accomplished the feat in 1971. Can you tell me about that one-two fish?
Cochran: That was a special time for us, that we had finished one-two. And that was the only time that we ever did that. I do remember that we tied one time in giant slalom, but it was for 16th and neither one of us was very happy about that. … But I always thought that would be so cool to have results like that, so for the U.S. team to be doing it this year is just really special.
OHT: I looked at the New York Times article from that finish in 1971, and the lead of the piece says, “Marilyn Cochran and her sister Barbara, crediting their mother’s cooking, finished 1, 2 today in the women’s special slalom for the first American victory in World Cup competition this season.” And I was just so curious if you remember what they were referring to, because the article didn’t clarify. What about your mother’s cooking had to do with the finish in the race?
Cochran: I do believe that that had been a leading question, and I think it came more from the report that we had been home right before going to Mount St. Anne (Quebec). So I don’t know if we said something about … being home, but I do kind of remember that when that article came out, now that you mention it, that I have a feeling that there was a little embellishment on the reporter’s part.
OHT: How you would characterize American ski racing in that 1971 season and how would you compare it to today?
Cochran: The ski racing back in 1971 was very different than it is today. The basics are the same, but there’s a lot of difference in equipment, there’s a lot of difference in even the technique. They have breakaway poles now, so essentially, your upper body goes right through the pole, and we didn’t have breakaway poles. We had poles that we had to ski around.
The other thing that happened, once the shape skis were being used — I think shaped skis are much easier to actually carve a turn, and that’s key in technique to be able to do that. I feel like I carved, but I had to really work to get to my skis to carve. We had straight skis. … Also, I think now, there’s a lot more depth to the field worldwide than there was in 1971.
OHT: Can you talk about the unpredictability of ski racing, and how these athletes can be so ready to go, but there are just so many factors that go into a ski race.
Cochran: That’s one thing that I told myself before I went to the Olympics, when reporters would ask me, “Well, how do you think the U.S. Ski Team is going to do?” or “How do you think you’re going to do?” And what I would say is that I don’t know if I’m going to win, but what I do know is I’m capable of winning. And I think just by repeating that over and over again, it really actually put me in a really good mental state to go to those Olympics.
OHT: What really stands out to you and feels special about watching the U.S. women compete this season?
Cochran: It’s been fun watching [Paula] because she’s just gotten stronger and stronger, and Mikaela, of course, has been strong from the get-go. But with Paula and Mikaela, to me the underwriting factor is that they truly believe that they’re capable of doing it. …
What’s really neat about about this time for the American women is that there’s Paula and Mikaela, but then there are others that are up-and-coming that are exciting. And that’s one thing that just fills my heart, that the U.S. women’s team is really coming together as a team. I think over the years with U.S. skiing, we’ve had these standouts – we’ve had Bodie [Miller] and Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn and then Mikaela, but they were like the “stand-alones.” And now I think it’s a much more rewarding experience when you’re part of a team and any one of you can get the results that you really want to get.
ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team
OHT: Something that we have also talked about this season is how notable it is to see Mikaela skiing so well after a challenging experience at the Olympics in Beijing. Can you talk a little bit about that mental toughness and resilience that she’s displayed?
Cochran: It seems as if probably this year, she will actually break the all-time record. You know, just that consistency – it’s just incredible. It’s mind-blowing. There are so many factors that just play into getting that consistency to get  wins in her career. …
I haven’t talked to Mikaela to really find out what went on at the Olympics, but it seems as if she must have been feeling a lot of pressure. And that’s coming from the way she’s thinking. So if you change that and if you take away or if you give yourself the freedom just to go out and enjoy it and do your job, execute the skills that you’ve already developed, then you’ll get results that you can be happy with.
OHT: Looking to the broader impact that the Cochran family has had on the alpine community, how does that feel to be a leader in that world and why is that important to you?
Cochran: It’s kind of ironic because we never felt like we were leaders. From the time I was 9 years old when we moved to Richmond [Vermont] and dad had this dream of putting up a rope tow in the backyard because as an athlete himself, he felt that it was really important that we just didn’t just train on weekends. He felt like it was important to be able to train during the week as well. I think back on it now, it’s hitting me more than it did as I was going through this, that we are a part of skiing history.
With this next generation, and the interest that our kids are sharing with their kids – it’s really becoming generational now. And to see that, I feel like the torch has been passed. I mean, we’re still involved in everything, but I feel like that the heavy burden of managing the skiing aspect has been passed on to the next generation, which is awesome.
OHT: Looking to this next generation of up-and-comers, what sort of message do you have to these rising women of the U.S. Alpine team?
Cochran: The message I have is the message that I think my dad had for us: Enjoy what you’re doing. That’s number one – to really focus on the fun that you’re having. But also, don’t try and be perfect but strive for perfection, because that’s when you’re going to gain excellence. But perfection is not attainable. Don’t worry about being perfect. You just strive for perfection. Do the best that you can and know that hard work and paying attention to details will get you the results that you want. Focus on the skills and let the results take care of themselves.