Mikaela Shiffrin: How the slalom star achieved legendary status at the Winter Olympics

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin has not had the Winter Olympics she was hoping for, but the underwhelming nature of her showing in Beijing should not dampen her skiing legacy. 

Because, while the 26-year-old continues to strive for perfection, she has already achieved far more than the majority of professional skiers ever will do. 

Indeed, Shiffrin has more Olympic and World Championship gold medals than the great Lindsey Vonn. 

The American is a two-time Olympic champion, three-time Overall World Cup winner and the youngest alpine skiing gold medallist in Winter Games history. 

Recently, Shiffrin has endured a tumultuous few years. She lost her father in February 2020 and has struggled to regain form ever since. 

Nevertheless, her career remains one worthy of celebrating. Here’s a tribute to the slalom star: 

An avid skiing family

Born in the mountain resort of Vail in Colorado, Shiffrin’s parents were both ski racers. Her father was an anesthesiologist and had skied in college, while her mother raced in high school in northwestern Massachusetts. 

Both shaped Shiffrin into a skiing sensation when she was only young –– helping her work on the physical traits needed to succeed in the sport. This often involved unconventional techniques, including urging their daughter to ride a unicycle and juggle to improve her balance. 

Shiffrin’s parents also placed emphasis on managing her mentality. Speaking to the Guardian, the US star said: “My parents used to say… ‘Just smile, even if you don’t feel like it.’

“Smiling releases a chemical in your brain that actually makes you feel happier. By smiling, you’re going to feel just a little bit better. You’re going to start this snowball effect that’s going to get you out of this mood.”

So far in Beijing, Shiffrin has yet to win a medal and failed to finish the slalom leg of Thursday’s combined in her last individual event of these Games. 

In this case, such a smile is going to be harder to come by, though Shiffrin still has one final chance to medal in the mixed team parallel event on Saturday. 

The American is not expected to win gold, but there is still a chance she could contend for a spot on the podium. 

World Cup success

Thanks to her parents’ influence, Shiffrin’s aptitude for skiing was evident from a young age and she made her World Cup debut at the age of 15. 

Two years later, she won her first slalom title and never looked back –– becoming the first and only athlete to win races in all six FIS Alpine Ski World Cup disciplines. 

Shiffrin has won the Overall World Cup on three occasions –– a prize often held in higher regard than an Olympic gold medal as it is awarded to the best all-around skier across all disciplines each season. 

In total, the American has won 73 World Cup races, which is the second most of all-time by a female alpine skier. She is also the youngest to reach 50 race wins, having done so at the age of 23. 

Other exceptional feats include winning 17 races in a single season back in 2019 –– surpassing Vreni Schneider’s previous record of 14, which had stood for 30 years. 

Shiffrin remains in touching distance of Lindsey Vonn’s remarkable 82 World Cup race wins and is 13 shy of the 86 victories achieved by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. 

Vonn’s injury-hit career came to an end in 2019 when she was 34. Given Shiffrin is still only 26, there is every chance she could make more skiing history in years to come. 

Olympic triumphs

Shiffrin established herself as an American prodigy at Sochi in 2014 when she became the youngest slalom gold medallist ever. 

Four years later in PyeongChang, she won gold in the giant slalom and silver in the combined. 

This year in Beijing, Shiffrin was hoping to become the first US athlete to win three skiing golds at the Winter Olympics. 

The 26-year-old is currently tied with Ted Ligety and Andrea Mead Lawrence on two, but it does not appear as though she’ll go clear at these Games.  

Shiffrin also remains one medal away from tying Julia Mancuso’s four Olympic medals, which would make her the joint- most decorated American in Olympic alpine skiing history. 

Difficult Beijing Games

It’s no secret that Shiffrin has struggled of late and her lack of success at these Games has seen her future called into question. 

Having underperformed in the giant slalom and the women’s slalom –– two of her favoured events, Shiffrin admitted she is finding it hard to cope with this disappointment, 

“I have never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it,” she said.

“I’m pretty much processing everything. It makes me second guess everything over the last 15 years. Everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality. I’m just processing a lot. I feel really bad.”

The American was left shell-shocked again today after failing to finish in the combined and footage showed the former Olympic champion being consoled by her coaching staff as the competition continued. 

But though it hasn’t come together for Shiffrin at these Games, a number of sporting stars have shared their support for the inspirational skier. 

Gymnastics icon Simone Biles, who faced her own difficulties at the Tokyo Olympics last year and cited the need to look after her mental health, tweeted three love heart emojis to Shiffrin as a sign of her admiration. 

An unforgettable legacy 

While Shiffrin has by her own admission ‘failed’ so far at these Games, her idea of what constitutes failure illustrates the standard to which she holds herself. 

Even before these Olympics, Shiffrin had achieved legendary status. Perhaps her prime years are past her now, and perhaps her aspirations for more Olympic silverware are fading, but in the end, this is true of most icons across any sport. 

If now does mark a changing of the guard and the next generation is beginning to emerge, Shiffrin has set the benchmark on what is possible to achieve. 

And to those who do idolise the skiing sensation, their idea of ‘perfection’ may look a little something like Shiffrin’s career.

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