Mikaela Shiffrin breaks Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record with his 87th victory
Mikaela Shiffrin, who became the most successful female skier in Alpine World Cup history with a record-breaking 87th win and won her slalom race in Are, Sweden on Saturday, works out at a colossal gym at the Westin Hotel near her home in Edwards, Colorado, from April through October .
Upon entering the mountain facility, visitors encounter an expansive tribute to Shiffrin, which celebrates some of her nine gold medals at Olympics and World Championships. One day at the gym last fall as a family snapped photos next to Shiffrin’s picture, she walked by unnoticed.
Had Shiffrin considered asking her fans if they’d rather have a photo with her in person? She looked embarrassed and said, “Oh no. I don’t want to disturb her.”
When athletes pass decade-long milestones and Shiffrin, 27, eclipsed Ingemar Stenmark’s record from 1989 With some prime years left in their careers, one wonders: Raw talent aside, how did they do it? Shiffrin has managed to avoid four common pitfalls — ego, hurt, complacency, and outside distractions — that have failed others and even ruined careers. Her absence has played a crucial role in Shiffrin’s unusual success.
As the anecdote from the lobby of Shiffrin’s Colorado gym shows, a tainted ego is not her problem. Which leaves:
In elite ski racing, the occasional fall on the icy snow between the gates is inevitable. When a bone-crushing, high-speed crash doesn’t shatter a promising career, chronic injuries, particularly to the lower back and knees, typically linger as racers absorb tremendous forces to execute precise corners at 60 to 80 miles per hour. Persistent ailments and the surgeries required to blunt them can interrupt and end careers. In this century, practically no prominent racing driver, be it the Americans Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn or the Croatian Janica Kostelic, has been spared serious injuries. Austrian Marcel Hirscher, fourth in the career World Cup winners list, was once considered the happiest skier in modern times because he only broke two leg bones.
Then there’s Shiffrin, whose only serious injury was a torn medial collateral ligament in a knee in 2015 that cost her two months of racing. And even that injury was an odd occurrence that might never have happened had Eileen Shiffrin, Mikaela’s mother and her head coach, been up the mountain that day. (More on that later.)
But first, it’s important to understand that Shiffrin’s unparalleled durability is first and foremost a reflection of a singular precision mixed with remarkable intent.
“Avoiding injury is at least 80 percent skill,” said Ted Ligety, the retired skier who has won five world championships and is the only American with two Olympic gold medals in the Alps. “People who fall, in general, often do so because they are taking too many risks and don’t have the technical skills to extricate themselves from difficulties they get into.”
He added: “The only thing Mikaela has in abundance is technical ability. She doesn’t put herself in risky positions and when she makes a rare mistake her technique is so good that she walks away without a bad fall.”
Eileen Shiffrin, who has trained and traveled with Mikaela since her World Cup debut aged 15, attributes her daughter’s largely injury-free career to a trait not typically associated with ski racers: caution.
“She rarely skis at 100 percent of her ability, more like 80 percent,” Eileen said in a phone interview from Switzerland last month. “She’s very calculated and always has been.”
Or as Mikaela said in a separate interview, “I never want to be caught off guard on skis” – part of the lore of her only significant injury as a pro.
Eileen, a former high-profile ski racer who was a full-time critical care nurse, never intended to be one of her daughter’s coaches forever, especially since Mikaela always had coaches and coaches from the US ski teams by her side. Eileen resigned from her coaching duties at the end of 2015.
While preparing for the first race without her mother, Mikaela was running alongside a training course in Sweden and fell badly, crashing into the safety net by the side of the trail. Injuring a right knee ligament required only rest, but the details of the mishap stood out: The track Mikaela rode that day had windblown snow, very different from the conditions of a groomed track.
“Mikaela thought if I had been there I would have warned her to be more careful,” Eileen said.
Returning to Europe with her mother two months later, Mikaela won back her first race and then two more to finish the season with five wins.
At the end of 2019, Eileen tried semi-retirement again. Within weeks, Mikaela’s skiing took a turn for the worse, including a staggering 17th place finish. When Eileen returned to the coaching staff, Mikaela won her next two races and finished on the podium in seven of the last ten events of the season. Since then, mother and daughter have remained a team.
Said Mikaela, “People always ask me, ‘What’s your secret?’ I want to say, “Isn’t it obvious? It’s my mother.’”
Athletes can get bored after decades of routine, and some will say that nothing is more tiring than the basic exercise ritual. But Shiffrin prefers training to competition, which she finds stressful. Your idea of a perfect day is 10 (or 15) straight training runs around a racecourse.
A few years ago after Shiffrin at the first of two World Cup races in Killington, Vt. After finishing second – a day that began with dawn course inspections – she was taken to another part of the resort where her coaches had set up a training course at her request. Shiffrin raced from run to run until the sun went down. She disappeared at dusk, but the gates could be heard clicking as she passed.
“Another run?” Schiffrin asked.
“It’s dark, Mikaela,” a trainer replied. “We must go.”
Shiffrin won the race the next day by almost two seconds, an amazing margin in a ski race.
“Mikaela never tires of finding solutions to tactical challenges,” said Paul Kristofic, the veteran US Women’s Ski Team head coach.
It’s an approach Shiffrin was taught by her mother and father, Jeff Shiffrin, a former college ski racer. When Mikaela was a youth racer, her parents eschewed the common practice of competing in multiple junior races each month.
Instead, Shiffrin stayed on her home hill where she would complete numerous training runs rather than two isolated runs at a distant race, a decision that emphasized developing her skills over setting performance-based goals. Still, Mikaela made it big when she raced, and her reputation spread nationwide. But the Shiffrins evangelized normality.
“These top coaches told me that Mikaela just tore up a track,” Jeff Shiffrin said in 2013 while sitting at his Colorado home. “And I would say, ‘Yes, I agree, but she’s only 9 years old.’ And they said, ‘What are your plans for her?’
“And I would say, ‘Plans? Well, tomorrow she’s trying to be an angel in the school Christmas play.’”
In Mikaela’s first nine years in the World Cup, her off-snow life was uneventful. That all changed on February 1, 2020, when her older brother Taylor called her in Europe to tell her that their father had been seriously injured in an accident at home in Colorado. When they returned to Denver, Mikaela and Eileen and other family members were at Jeff’s bedside in the hours leading up to his February 2nd death.
The family has refused to give details of the accident; A coroner gave the cause of death as a head injury.
Mikaela stopped competing for nine months. Returning to the World Cup, she continued to win races but found that even good results could be disturbing.
“I’m pretty sad,” she said after a win because it reminded her that she would never call her dad after a race again.
The 2022 Beijing Olympics brought amazing performances. A favorite for multiple medals, she fell three times and won none. But after those games, Shiffrin rallied to win the 2022 World Cup overall title, and in the 2023 season, she quickly accelerated — almost amazingly — to a career World Cup winning record and a fifth overall World Cup title.
“The last few years have been tough times, but we’ve managed to pull through and get through this,” said Eileen Shiffrin. “I think we’ve come out closer to the other side than we’ve ever been and also more functional.”
Of course, family tragedies aren’t the only way the personal lives of top athletes can interrupt or alter a promising career. External problems of all kinds add to this, from an overzealous nightlife to tangled relationships and money worries.
But ever since she was a child, Mikaela has had a hard time taking her eyes off the snow beneath her skis. When she turned 18, I remember asking her if she went out to bars now.
“I can go out and be more social,” she replied. “But I want to be home by 9:30 to 10 a.m. I can’t function if I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep.”
She watches her favorite shows on TV. In 2017, she said with a laugh, “Maybe the most exciting thing about my week is when the new episode of ‘Madam Secretary’ comes out.”
And she’s learned to make time to celebrate big victories like her 14 World Championship medals, something tennis star Roger Federer encouraged her to do when he invited her to lunch at his home in Switzerland last year.
Shiffrin has been dating Norwegian skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, a two-time Olympic champion, for two years. They are ski racing’s power couple with self-imposed curfews.
“A healthy distraction,” Eileen called the relationship.
“We talk every night,” Mikaela said, “but we say goodnight early because there’s so much to do the next day.” Beach vacations will wait until late spring.
Last fall, Shiffrin rode a stationary bike undisturbed for almost an hour at the gym near her home, which is in the middle of a snow-sports kingdom in Colorado. When she was done, she walked towards the exit with a towel around her neck.
In the hallway, a crowd crowded in front of the photo that pays tribute to her. Cell phone cameras were held up.
The ski racer, who was on the verge of setting the record for most World Cup race wins, turned sideways as she weaved through the group, turned, looked over her shoulder and smiled.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/sports/skiing/shiffrin-stenmark-world-cup-record.html Mikaela Shiffrin breaks Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record with his 87th victory