US skier Mikaela Shiffrin displays 'fighting spirit' in record victory

Mikaela Shiffrin, U.S. downhill skier, just passed fellow American Lindsey Vonn’s record in the giant slalom and is only three wins away from breaking the all-time record. Ms. Shiffrin has continued to persevere after facing numerous obstacles.  

Alessandro Trovati/AP
American skiier Mikaela Shiffrin reacts after winning a giant slalom at the women's World Cup, in Kronplatz, Italy, Jan. 24, 2023. Ms. Shiffrin won a record 83rd World Cup race and is the only athlete to win World Cups in all six disciplines.

Mikaela Shiffrin reached the summit of ski racing on Tuesday, passing fellow American Lindsey Vonn with victory in the giant slalom at Kronplatz to become the most successful female Alpine skier in World Cup history with an 83rd title.

Ms. Shiffrin’s giant slalom victory broke a tie on the all-time women’s list with Ms. Vonn, who retired four years ago when injuries cut her career short.

“It might take me a little bit to figure out what to say,” Ms. Shiffrin said. “I don’t know what to say right now.”

The U.S. downhill skier now needs only three more wins to match Ingemark Stenmark’s overall mark – between men and women – of 86 victories. (Mr. Stenmark competed in the 1970s and ’80s.)

Ms. Shiffrin led from start to finish at the Kronplatz resort in the Italian Dolomites, crossing 0.45 seconds ahead of world champion Lara Gut-Behrami and 1.43 ahead of home favorite and former overall champion Federica Brignone after also posting the fastest first run.

Ms. Shiffrin seemed exhausted and relieved immediately after finishing, bending over and resting her head on her poles and then biting her lips before going over to embrace Ms. Gut-Behrami and Ms. Brignone.

Ms. Brignone told Ms. Shiffrin, “Congrats,” and Ms. Shiffrin responded, “Oh my god.”

It was Ms. Shiffrin’s ninth win of the season.

What’s more is that Ms. Shiffrin is still only 27. Ms. Vonn was 33 when she won her last World Cup event, and Mr. Stenmark was 32.

The record also comes nearly a year after Ms. Shiffrin didn’t win a medal in six events at the Beijing Olympics after entering amid big expectations.

Ms. Shiffrin can quickly add to her record total in another giant slalom at Kronplatz on Wednesday. Then she has two slaloms – her best event, having accounted for 51 of her 83 victories – in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, next weekend. That was where Ms. Shiffrin made her World Cup debut as a 15-year-old in March 2011.

After a short break, Ms. Shiffrin will then again be a multi-medal threat at the world championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, which start on Feb. 6.

Born in Vail, Colorado, to ski racing parents Eileen and Jeff, the child prodigy won her first World Cup in Are, Sweden in 2013 as a 17-year-old high school student and went on to claim the first of her six season titles in slalom later that year.

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, she made history by becoming the youngest-ever winner of an Olympic slalom gold medal, managing to somehow correct herself midair during her second trip down the mountain to claim victory.

She ended that season as the Olympic, World Cup, and world champion in slalom, and her profile grew considerably as media appearances and sponsorships began to pile up for the amiable 18-year-old star.

Experts said that if Ms. Shiffrin could stay healthy in the perilous sport, she could make a run at the record books and indeed her durability has been a key asset.

Ms. Shiffrin has enjoyed relatively few injury setbacks. A powerful and precise skier, Ms. Shiffrin is the only athlete to win World Cups in all six disciplines – downhill, super-G, Alpine combined, giant slalom, slalom, and parallel.

Ms. Shiffrin’s first real taste of professional disappointment came at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang where she was heavily favored to successfully defend her slalom title but surprisingly only managed a fourth-place finish.

However, she won an unexpected gold in giant slalom and capped off her second Games with a silver in the combined to leave South Korea with her head held high.

Family tragedy 

Tragedy struck when her father Jeff died unexpectedly in February 2020 after an accident at home. Upon hearing the news Ms. Shiffrin left Europe and flew back to Colorado to be by his hospital bedside with her mother and older brother Taylor.

Her supportive father who was often seen taking pictures at the finish line was the “CEO of Mikaela Shiffrin the ski racer,” she told Reuters in an interview in May 2020, since he handled her finances and worked closely with her agent.

Her mother also had a huge impact on Ms. Shiffrin’s career, serving as her ski coach until 2019.

The 2022 Olympics proved a low point in Ms. Shiffrin’s otherwise sparkling career and the ultimate test of her fighting spirit.

She glided into the Beijing Games with enormous expectations heaped on her shoulders as she favored to win gold in at least three events but stunningly fell in three races and left China empty-handed.

Ms. Shiffrin bounced back quickly after the disappointment, urging her fans to use her Olympic struggles as a reminder to “Get up, again. Again. Again.”

“I think that reflects her level of professionalism,” Tiger Shaw, former president and CEO for U.S. Ski and Snowboard, who has known Ms. Shiffrin since she was born, told Reuters.

“She can fail spectacularly and come through it and say, ‘Hey, I did the best I can. And I’m sad about the outcome, too, but I tried. I did the best I could.’ And then she’s okay with that.”

Her mettle intact, she went on to win her fourth overall World Cup title later that year.

Ms. Shiffrin got her run for the record books off to a hot start this season, quickly seizing the lead in the overall World Cup standings before matching Ms. Vonn’s record with a giant slalom victory in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on Jan. 8.

Now she has her sights set on toppling Mr. Stenmark.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from Reuters was used in this report. Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles. Additional reporting by Amy Tennery.

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