High Points: Go, Mikaela, go!
If you are a fan of ski racing, you have lived in a Golden Age for the last couple of decades.
First, there was the magic that was Lindsey Vonn, who won three Olympic Medals (one gold) and a record 82 World Cup races in a career that spanned 19 years from her World Cup debut in 2000 in Park City to her final race in 2019 at the World Championships in Sweden.
Immediately on the heels of Lindsey’s epic career came Mikaela Shiffrin, who goes into this weekend with 81 World Cup wins and a chance to tie Vonn for the most wins in history by a woman skier. She trails the iconic Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the all-time record for World Cup victories with 86. Six more wins would put Mikaela at the top of the list.
It is only a matter of time before she reaches the pinnacle in all-time World Cup races won. She is on a streak that has seen her win the last five races she started in three different events, with a win this past Wednesday in a very warm Zagreb, Croatia. She has also has won super G and giant slalom races in this stretch of success. “I skied better than I probably ever have,” she exclaimed following her win in Zagreb.
It seems the only thing that can keep her from the top step of a podium, at least temporarily, is the weather. A second slalom race in Zagreb was canceled this week as a result of the record-high temperatures and winds that have made this a difficult ski season in much of Europe. Temperatures in Zagreb were forecasted to reach the mid-50s on Thursday. The circuit moves 130 miles northwest to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, for a pair of giant slalom events on Saturday and Sunday.
In contrast to Lindsey, who made her mark in the speed events, the downhill and super G (71 of her 82 wins came in those events), Mikaela specializes in the technical events, the slalom and giant slalom where she has taken first place 67 times in her 13-year World Cup career. The rest of the World Cup schedule shows 12 such events remain on the current docket before the final races of the season in mid-March. Two of her victories came here in Aspen in November 2015.
Part of what makes Mikaela’s quest so compelling is that she has overcome travails and tragedy to reach this moment. It was less than a year ago that she was being touted as favorite to be the face of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which were held last February. She entered the Games with expectations that she might become the first American skier to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.
It did not work out that way. With great fanfare, she failed to finish three of the six events she started. Rather than a worldwide television moment featuring her standing with a gold medal around her neck, the enduring image was of Mikaela sitting in the snow after she DNF-ed at the top of the hill in the slalom — the race that was her specialty. Perhaps worse than the sting of not skiing her best was the social-media onslaught that followed. She addressed her distress in an Instagram post, and many thought she would never achieve the kind of results she is seeing this season.
And, all of that followed the tragic passing of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, who died in February 2020 after an accident at the family home in Colorado while Mikaela was at a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. At the time, she questioned whether skiing was “worth it.”
Bottomline, her drive to ski her best, and her ability to overcome adversity make her an athlete for the ages. It is even better to see her come back from the Olympic debacle and conquer her losses with enthusiasm than it would have been to see her triumph in Beijing.
Go, Mikaela, go!