Mikaela Shiffrin – the name conjures up the image of a lithe, blonde facing the weathered ski slopes of the world, taking on all comers and finishing at or near the top of the table. 2017/2018 was the season that she set herself up for greatness by making the podium a whopping 18 times, winning a grand total of 12 World Cup races, covering three of the total four disciplines the sport offers. But that wasn’t enough for Shiffrin, who then went on to South Korea to claim an Olympic gold. Quite an accomplishment for such a young athlete, but the stress and strain of competition has started to tell on her well before she closed her hands over that Olympic gold.
Getting Up After Falling Down
It was in Cortina, Italy, that Shiffrin realized that she wasn’t as much of a super-woman as she had first thought. The grueling week-long exercise would be enough to bring pause to any athlete, especially one that had hopes of medaling in an Olympic event, but she thought she was more than equal to the task. She was wrong. Cortina proved a turning point that she would have to bounce back from to recover as a sportswoman. She podiumed in just one of the three races she attempted at Cortina. The following three World Cup races she ended up in the DNF pile, something she admits she had never done in her career before. However, looking at her recent interactions with fans, she has come back from this setback, better and stronger than before. Cortina could have been her Waterloo, but instead it served to give her a chance to take stock and recover.
An Unassuming Hero
Shiffrin at the tender age of 23 faces the terrifying fear that all other racers face during their career. But combining it with an ineffable ambition she has managed to harness this beast into a measure of success. And ‘measured’ is what a lot of racing fans think about her successes. Her style, quite unlike those of the racers of yesteryear like Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, is calculated and she only takes risks that she knows she has the odds in her favor to overcome. While she may not be the splashiest competitor on the slopes, she is one that works hard for her merits, and it shows. The fire of ambition blazes in her and that drive to compete, to be the best, is no less than any of those great skiers of the past. As she has already shown, she’s not one to shy away from the demands of competitive life.
The Balance of Life
Shiffrin notes that in the recent past she dedicated a lot of her time to her athletics and training in order to stay ahead of the competition. As she grows older though, she realizes that there must be a balance between work and life. Her recent attendance of the Cannes Festival and the Paris Open are good examples of living life as she wants to, while still being aware of the expectations that so many have of her. Her engagement on social media helps to build rapport with her fans, and every Instagram post she makes from Niseko isn’t done by some trained PR company, but rather with her own hands, carefully weeding out the spelling and grammatical errors and composing her posts for her audience. Her sponsors love this of course, good publicity is hard to come by. But as Shiffrin says, many of those sponsors don’t quite grasp what it takes to be a competitive athlete as well as the face of a brand. There are only so many hours in a day, and while she does meet her contractual social media obligations to the brands she represents, she has slowly come to realize that life is more than just the sport she loves.
The Fickle Spotlight
While still the darling of her fans worldwide, Shiffrin has seen mixed success with the press. She holds the record for being the youngest female ski racer ever to win an Olympic gold medal and has equaled the record for the most gold medals won by an American in the discipline of alpine skiing. She makes up an elite group of five Americans who have ever won the World Cup overall, and all of these serves as platforms for the press to celebrate. Even the best athletes have their off days however, and the run-up to the Olympics, including the Cortina debacle, has turned a few of the avid sports reporters against her. Her attempt to become the best seems a bit too measured and calculated for some, especially since we as a country have become used to skiiers like Vonn and Bode standing up and forcing the sport the take notice. Shiffrin’s approach is different, and while some pockets of the press might have cooled on her, it hasn’t dampened her spirit or killed her drive. What she does is not for the benefit of sports writers.
Setting Goals for 2018/2019
Shiffrin sees this year as another challenge, aiming to be more consistent in the giant slalom. She will, of course, be looking at Cortina as her marquee event – to conquer what has defeated her once before is expected for someone of such a disposition. Her focus in this upcoming season is her speed, as she seeks to set records and win races. This year is a year we’re likely to see her name show up a lot more, not just in local sporting news but around the globe as she aims to be a contender in downhill and Super-G races while maintaining her excellence in the slalom and super slalom fields. Whether she reclaims the spotlight this year remains to be seen, but chances are good that we will see a return to form for Shiffrin 2.0.