For Mikaela Shiffrin, Tuesday wasn’t just another giant slalom race. Shiffrin’s victory at Kronplatz in Italy was her 83rd career World Cup victory, making her the most victorious female skier in history.
On a gray afternoon, Shiffrin did what she does best – win from the front, lead the points after a first run down a steep, windy slope, then run a clean, tough and aggressive second to finish A 0.45-second margin of victory, typical of a big score for a now arguably greatest female alpine skier of all time, snapped her boots to the bindings.
Shiffrin bent over after her cruising stop, waved her fist and ski pole twice, and began a long series of congratulatory hugs.
Another example of American stars, Lindsey Vonn and Shiffrin — though Vonn is a speed racer and Shiffrin is a slalom specialist — is the sport’s former female standard-bearer and 82-time World Cup winner. Shiffrin now needs just four more wins to break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins, the most by a male or female skier.
Even after all these years of victories, Shiffrin said she was nervous waiting for her second run at the summit.
“Finally when it was time to go, everything was quiet and I just pushed as hard as I could,” she said.
For Shiffrin, 27, breaking the record in Tuesday’s giant slalom was the latest feat in a remarkable career that began more than a decade ago when she was a teenager. She burst onto the scene as a ski prodigy and seemed destined for greatness, the daughter of two competitive skiers who started at age 8 under the frigid lights of Storrs Mountain, New Hampshire. — 300 feet of vertical drop — and started perfecting my turns. A hill, yes, but also an opportunity for a lot of running and turning.
However, no one is destined to make a difference in alpine skiing. The sport has essentially a 100% injury rate, and nearly every racer has experienced a career-threatening crash at some point. So far, Shiffrin has miraculously managed to avoid that fate, making her faster and even more fitting on her way to breaking the record on Tuesday.
She is the youngest U.S. skier who has achieved so many milestones in her career but has only one major flaw — she failed to win a medal or even complete most of the races at the Beijing Olympics. She still won the 2022 World Cup overall and a downhill race a few weeks after the chaos in Beijing.
Her mother and coach, Eileen Shiffrin, said in an interview this month that Beijing’s disappointment set the stage for personal growth last summer that would bear fruit years later.
“These will be lifelong lessons,” she said.
The journey has been a whirlwind, and, by all accounts, Shiffrin’s above all else, it seems like it has a long way to go. Before this season, she brought in a new coach and technician, and whether she won 83 more ski races or nothing, she tried to find peace in the process.
In a rare reflection on the breadth of her accomplishments after her 80th win, Shiffrin told her mother that while some might think winning came easy, it wasn’t.
“Each of these victories took a lot of hard work,” Eileen Shiffrin’s daughter told her. “You can’t believe how much work it took. I couldn’t easily win another game.”
As unlikely as that seems, Shiffrin has won 80 of her 230 races, a 35 percent win rate across all five disciplines in a sport where top skiers can spend years between victories.
The American ski specialist started hearing about Shiffrin before she was a teenager, even though she raced far fewer races than most teens. She dazzled coaches at Burke Mountain College in Vermont, one of the country’s leading factories for alpine talent, but she spent much of Saturday training rather than in the car for the race Travel for hours. Her father, Jeff, thinks that a few extra hours in the snow are worth more than collecting ribbons and medals, which soon no one will care about.
By the time she made her World Cup debut at age 15 in March 2011, Shiffrin seemed to possess a preternatural balance that allowed her to turn a 60-turn slalom race into a dance on an ice slope. The gate was not so much an obstacle as an opportunity for her to gain more speed.
A month later, she became the youngest national alpine champion in U.S. history.
first of 83
Shiffrin’s deadline misses are rare, but impressive nonetheless.
Shiffrin won her first World Cup title in Are, Sweden, in December 2012, coming back to beat Frida Hansdotter by 29 percent of a second. The victory made her the youngest women’s World Cup winner since Switzerland’s Lara Gut in 2008 and the second-youngest American to win a World Cup match. Judy Nagel was three months younger than Shiffrin when she won the slalom race in 1969.
The two runs were not perfect, Shiffrin said at the time. Ski racing never was. But they’re all fast, and that’s enough.
When the first world championship arrived on a gray afternoon in February 2013, Shiffrin’s face wore an expression that was closer to relief and exhaustion than joy. She didn’t jump or roll in the snow, or even lift her skis triumphantly into the air. She closed her eyes, hugged the other racer, and started walking for a short distance, but soon dropped to one knee with her head resting on the skis.
“I was nervous until I started,” she said after the game. “But when I started, I felt alive and ready to race.”
It was an early hint that 17-year-old world champion Shiffrin was not like most skiers after staged another comeback victory. Shiffrin was the first to admit that he was a little concerned. Sometimes, she does word searches and other puzzles on the hilltop before a race to calm her nerves. When victories came, they were more of a release, especially as the world wondered if the prodigy, nicknamed the Slalom Princess, could keep winning under the lights of the World Championships.
yes she can.
youngest alpine gold medalist
When it’s over, the numbers say it’s not over yet. Under the lights of Russia’s Rosa Khutor, Shiffrin won the Olympic slalom gold by more than half a second ahead of Austria’s Marlies Schild.
But halfway up the second slide, a wildly fast left-hander lifted her into the air, and as she entered the next turn, the back half of her right ski landed. One second she lowered her head, the next she somehow recovered, steadying herself as she charged through the gate. A few gates later, she was back at work, winding her way to the finish line.
“I’ve done a hundred recoveries in practice, if not more,” Shiffrin said after the game. “So I said, ‘You know what to do — get back in class.'”
Winning a slalom championship on home snow may be harder than it looks.
When Shiffrin stepped into the starting hut at Beaver Creek for the 2015 World Championships, it had been 18 years since a woman had won gold in slalom while her country hosted the event, the biggest ski race outside of the Olympics. In Shiffrin’s case, she was racing at her home in the Colorado mountains. Vail-Beaver Creek was her getaway.
The 19-year-old hit her first career low, losing three slalom races earlier in the season and struggling to make the podium at times. But she took the lead on the first run, took a nap on the hill 30 minutes before her second run, and despite her slow start, struggled in the final stretch to win her second world title.
Another, different Olympic gold medal
Alpine skiing at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea was a bit of a mess from the start. Cold temperatures and high winds wreaked havoc on the schedule, with women’s giant slalom and slalom events scheduled for consecutive days when officials finally determined the mountain was safe to race.
Shifflin came out on top in the giant slalom, winning gold with a quick and technically reliable run, becoming the third American to win multiple Alpine Olympic gold medals. While winning a gold medal allows for a full day of interviews, ceremonies and celebrations. By the time Shiffrin fell asleep, it was past the 9pm bedtime and the slalom race was scheduled for the next morning.
Nervousness caused her to vomit before the race, and by the end of the race she was fourth in her signature event. She called the result “very disappointing”, but won silver in the combined event.
Little did she know the disappointment that awaited her at the next Olympics.
So many races, so many falls
Arriving in Beijing for the 2022 Olympics, Shiffrin is on track to win multiple medals in a career that has won two golds and one silver, the next step in becoming the most decorated snowboarder of all time on the international stage. Instead, her journey became one of staring into the abyss: two DNFs (didn’t finish) slalom and slalom, followed by a 9th and 18th in Super-G and downhill, then a final DNF combo.
There are many possible causes of death. In a 2020 incident at her Colorado home, she contracted Covid-19 earlier in the winter and was quarantined for 10 days, a back pain last November cost her valuable practice experience and even caused her father to died suddenly.
“Right now I just feel like a joke,” Shiffrin said after the final fall.
Winning a championship a few weeks later offers a little consolation, but nothing more.
Her mother described the Beijing Olympics as “devastating and shocking” and the experience will “hurt forever”, but there is a silver lining.
“If she came away with some medals, she probably wouldn’t be looking for the self-improvement that she did all summer,” she said.
With the 2022-23 season on the horizon, it seems difficult to pass Vaughn.
Shiffrin needs eight wins to tie and nine to pass Vonn, who retired in 2019. She hasn’t had a double-digit win total in a season in three years. Granted, Covid-19 has canceled games and messed up schedules for several years, but Shiffrin’s lock on the sport is no longer certain.
Paul Kristofici, who has been the U.S. women’s coach for the past eight years, said Shifflin spent a good portion of the offseason testing new equipment to make sure she had the right skis for a variety of slopes and snow conditions. Hardly anyone discusses winning more races than any other female skier.
“We don’t really talk about these milestone records,” Christopher Fitch said in an interview. “We’re really focused on the week and the venue. Our work is in the moment.”
Then there is Levi in Finland, where the season starts in November. Shiffrin won back-to-back slalom races, her 75th and 76th career victories. Vaughn’s record suddenly seemed a lot closer.
“I tried to make the stress go away, but it was always there,” she said. She later added, “When you win, it actually just gets harder.”
Winning No. 77ers come to St. Moritz 18 in super-G in December, Shiffrin’s favorite speed event. Super-G is all about flow and long, precise turns. When Shiffrin finds her line, she can hang on to it like anyone. There’s nothing she loves more than being on the ski hill, especially in one of the sport’s popular destinations.
“When there’s sun, you can’t beat it here,” she said on a day when no one could beat her.
Then Shiffrin got really hot, taking three wins in a row, two giant slaloms and one slalom, to reach 80 wins in Semmering, Austria.
“Well, it was a pretty crazy night,” she said after her final win. She was on the podium for the first time with her longtime teammate and friend Paula Moltzan, who finished second. They couldn’t help giggling as they sang the national anthem at the victory ceremony, Shiffrin said.
A slalom win in warm and muddy Croatia made it five in a row.
“I had a lot of fun, I skied really well,” she said. “Right now I feel like I’m just riding the wave, and I’m going to ride the wave until it’s over.”
Shiffrin did not collect. 82, tied with Vonn in the giant slalom of Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
“Speechless!!!” her boyfriend, Norwegian ski champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, tweeted.
Then there’s only one thing left to do – win again.