Watch Mikaela Shiffrin bid to break World Cup wins record, live on Peacock

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2022. December 9 January 8 After winning the giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Mikaela Shiffrin won 82nd career World Cup race, tied Lindsey Vonn women’s record. She has a chance to break that record on Tuesday in Flachau, Austria (broadcast on Peacock). For the latest on Shiffrin and the alpine ski season, visit OlympicTalk.

US alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin is likely in the coming weeks – probably here is a very loaded and problematic word – win her 83rd race on the world cup circuit, the highest level in her sport, passing American Lindsey Vonn for the most career wins by a woman. It won’t be long before she does probably win her 87th in the race, one more than Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won his 86 races between 1975 and 1989. With the victory, Shiffrin, who will turn 28 in March, will have more career wins than any ski racer in history and end his ongoing pursuit and guessed for the better part of a decade. She will be well-deservedly honored for this achievement.

That celebration will devalue the moment and give Shiffrin less credit than she deserves, as career highs do by simply existing. Career records compress the pain and struggle of an athletic career into one antiseptic number: the majority that, or the majority that. Passes, tackles, goals, four-minute miles. It will be said that Shiffrin’s record is the result of constant brilliance, and this is clearly true. It will be said that she has packed her wins into a shorter span of 12 seasons than either of the last two riders she beat; Vonn raced for 18 seasons and won 82nd at age 33, while Stenmark raced for 16 seasons and won his last race at age 32. So this will also be true.

But those descriptions will soften the tolls on Shiffrin’s work, as career records do, too. They simplify the complexities and polish away the rough edges in service of the myth that the chosen number was inevitable. That’s especially true of Shiffrin: She was a child prodigy who, as a mere teenager, was whispered — and then shouted — throughout sports as the next big — and perhaps the biggest — thing. She won her first World Cup race at the age of 17 and her Olympic gold medal at the age of 18 (in the slalom in Sochi in 2014). She won a remarkable 17 World Cup races in the season that ended in 2019. on March 17, just four days after the 24thth birthday. At the time, she had won 60 World Cup races and looked set to overtake Vonn and Stenmark in just two seasons. Hosannas were ready.

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He didn’t play like that. In more than three seasons since this amazing 2019. campaign Shiffrin won a total from 16 races (40 of Shiffrin’s 76 wins came in three highly successful seasons from 2017-2019). Since then, it has changed and changed was changed – personal tragedy, injury, and awareness of personal and professional mortality that young athletes successfully deny and older athletes either unsuccessfully accept and resist. What seemed easy became much more difficult. (Of course, it was always hard, Shiffrin just made it look easy, which the exceptional among us do.) And she persevered, the most.

“For the last two years, I’ve had a note with what I’ve written down,” Shiffrin said last weekend from her World Cup base in Europe. “It’s really been said that the most I’d like to go back in life is, like, two and a half years.” I want to get back to where I was at the beginning of the year right after that 17-win season. It was my best season and I was so happy. And I would give anything to go back to that feeling. She does not say this as if she is sad, but as if she is enlightened, which is completely different.

Shiffrin’s life and career arc after that in 2019. of the season is well known to fans of ski racing and even to a wider audience who saw her struggles in 2022. in the Olympic Games. (More on that soon.) Just before 2020. Shiffrin’s 98-year-old grandmother, Pauline Condron, died at the start of the World Cup season. Reducing the number of deaths in the very old is a reflection, but a loss is a loss, and Shiffrin was very close to her grandmother. Shiffrin won six races from November to the end of January, not quite as fast as the previous season, but not shabby either. On February 2, 2020, her father Jeff died from injuries sustained at the family home in Colorado while Mikaela was racing in Europe. From that point on, Shiffrin carried the extra weight.

When we spoke last week, I told Shiffrin (and again, this isn’t revealing in revealing an athlete’s or a person’s life) that what used to be a kind of innocence has become much more complicated over the last few years. .

“When I was 16, 17, 18,” Shiffrin says. “I didn’t know many people who died. Since then, two of the five most important people in my life have died. They are no longer here. And that number won’t decrease as I get older.

Since his father’s death, Shiffrin has been out of racing for more than 300 days, much of that time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which World Cup racing has continued with relatively few cancellations (though with many breaks and absences, of course, no spectators). She returned and won three races in 2021. season, bringing her total to 69. Content highlighting her status at the time often noted that she was “back.” She didn’t come back. She will never “come back” in such a simplistic, sports-oriented way.

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“I got back into racing after my father passed away,” Shiffrin says. “So many people were like, ‘Well, you’re back.’ And then I won again and people were like, ‘Wow, you’re really back.’ To be honest, I was still trying hard.”

in 2021 by the end of the season, Shiffrin had won four world championship medals, including gold in the combined downhill and slalom. She won four more World Cup events before the 2022 Olympics, but did poorly in Beijing. She skied early in both the giant slalom (stunning) and slalom (jaw-dropping), and after finishing — but not competing — in the Super-G speed and downhill, she skied the combined slalom. . It was an inexplicably poor performance that was endlessly analyzed in real time, including by Shiffrin herself, because she doesn’t shy away from public self-examination, no matter how painful.

Since then, on the one hand, she admits that the experience left scars, because of course it did. At the same time, “I mean, people ask me about it,” she says. “It’s less and less every day, but I try to convey the message that I’m moving on.” Some of them will always be a mystery. “In slalom and giant slalom and combined, I went to gate four, fate five, gate nine, but I skied that gate exactly the way I wanted to. I don’t usually DNF. And I couldn’t imagine myself skiing off-piste in that race, that’s for sure. But I did.”

Ten months have passed since that experience; three years after the death of his grandmother and father. This year, she won the World Cup slalom event in Levi, Finland, with consecutive numbers 75 and 76. And then Thanksgiving weekend in Killington, central Vermont, in a home game on the hill, where she won five slaloms in five starts. finished fifth (and 13th in giant slalom competitions).

All of this, personal tragedies and racing struggles, changed her relationship with the sport. The finish of the giant slalom in Killington, which she spends too little training in this discipline this year. The rest is more ethereal, more psychic. “I’m halfway through the season, and maybe the Olympics brought it up, how hard it is not only to win a ski race, but to finish. It’s not something I’ve struggled with for most of my career, but when you think about it, in ski racing and you add the changing conditions, how much we care, it’s incredible what I’ve done. for the last 12 years”.

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If that sounds like self-doubt, maybe, but it’s too simple. Consider it both a mature appreciation and a return to her roots as a racer. Jeff Shiffrin has taught his children, Mikaela and her brother Taylor, to skillfully embrace the process of skiing and let it win. “Every time I started a race trying to win, instead of skiing my best, I didn’t win that race. But there’s an adrenaline rush in our sport when you don’t even win a race, and I’m still into it. If I was only here to win, I would have quit by now. As I’m almost 82 and 86, people find this hard to believe, but it’s true. I’d be done by now.”

It is not finished. Shiffrin thinks about what might be next and concludes what most athletes do: “Everything else I do in life is probably going to be difficult, but most other things won’t give me as much back as ski racing.” in 2026 the Olympic Games will be co-hosted by the city of Milan and the Italian mountain resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, an iconic ski racing venue. “Anything could happen, and I could decide to retire,” Shiffrin says. “But I don’t see it happening any sooner [next] Olympics”.

Unfinished business? (And to be fair, despite Beijing, Shiffrin has three Olympic medals; the only U.S. woman with more is Julia Mancuso (4). “It’s not about the medals,” she says. “But the last three Olympics have generally been in places that has nothing to do with downhill skiing.” [Boy is that right: Sochi, PyeongChang, and Beijing.] “Cortina is a place I love. I would like to experience the Olympics there. Pause. “And of course if I’m racing I want to be a medal contender and everything that goes with that.” Edge.

Before that comes an 82 and an 86. Shiffrin will compete this weekend in the giant slalom and slalom in Sestriere, Italy in 2006. at the site of the Olympic and Paralympic mountain races. Since then, the World Cup has continued, with 13 more slaloms and giant slaloms, and plenty of speed races, should Shiffrin choose to race them as she has often done in the past. There are many opportunities to sort of finish this job.

However, she understands most of all that nothing is promised, not even life, and certainly not winning a ski race. “In a way, I know I’m going to win the next World Cup race,” she says. Likely. “But I also know you can’t be sure.” And this is the lesson that will make the posts make the most sense.

To learn more about Shiffrin’s 2022-2023 season, visit OlympicTalk.

Tim Layden is the senior writer for NBC Sports. Previously, he was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated for 25 years.


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