High Points: Three amazing women | AspenTimes.com

High Points: Three amazing women

Paul E. Anna
High Points.
China's Eileen Gu talks to reporters after the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Here in the thick of the NFL playoffs, I would normally be obsessed with the upcoming playoff games. But, ironically, I find my sports attention riveted on three very special female athletes who compete, not just against their peers, but against the power of gravity itself. Pretty heady stuff.

This week, skiers Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, and Eileen Gu — one could say the past, present, and the future of skiing — are all in the news as the winter sports season reaches its apex. While all three do their best work on skis, their accomplishments rely on markedly different skill sets and come in different disciplines. And, all three have inspired us by overcoming extreme and varied challenges to reach their respective podiums.

Let’s begin with the future. Eileen Gu, the precocious freshman from Stanford, will be competing at 5:30 on Friday at Buttermilk in the women’s ski big air competition in the X Games. Her sport — free skiing — requires not just skills, but also courage and creativity.

While she has yet to see her 20th birthday (That will be Sept. 3), she has already won a pair of Olympic gold medals (along with a silver), scored 1580 out of 1600 on her SATs, been on the cover of Vogue Hong Kong and made the Time magazine list of the Top 100 most influential people of 2022. Oh, and she was ranked by Forbes magazine as the third highest-paid female athlete on the planet, with earnings of $20.1 million last year, trailing only tennis players Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

Gu, who was raised in San Francisco by a single mother who emigrated from China, was roundly criticized for changing her national affiliation within skiing’s governing body, the FIS, from the United States to China prior to the Beijing Olympic Games. All she has done in the face of the criticism has been to tune out the noise, compete at the highest levels of her sport, and attend her classes in Palo Alto. This weekend, she has two opportunities to medal again at the X Games.

Now, the present. Mikaela Shiffrin, as was predicted in this space two weeks ago, captured her 83rd and 84th World Cup wins this week, making her the winningest women in FIS history. The victories put her within striking distance of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time wins mark of 86. This week, she took the top step on the podium in two giant slalom races in San Viglio di Marebbe, Italy, to surpass Lindsey Vonn.

This Sunday, the best technical skier in history has two slalom races in the place she made her World Cup debut in 2011: Spindleruv in the Czech Republic. If she can win them both, she will tie the Stenmark record. Story-book stuff.

“Technically, it is possible,” Shiffrin told journalists with a laugh. “We’ll see if I can put the energy on my slalom skis for two more races. It’s been busy, and I am in a kind of an unfortunate time of my monthly cycle, so I’m more tired right now. We just normalized talking about that.”

If she accomplishes the feat, she will likely share the Sports Center headlines on Sunday night with Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, who also has a big competition that day. Both Mikaela and Patrick are 27 years of age, for a little perspective.

Then there was an all-time blast-from-the-past. Lindsey Vonn, the Tom Brady of the women’s speed events (aka the GOAT), who had not skied a downhill in the four years since her retirement, conquered the treacherous Streif race course. The site of Kitzbuhel’s famed Hahnenkamm men’s race, the course is said to be the most difficult downhill on the planet. And, get this … she did it at night.

That’s right, after five weeks of training for the event, she took to the start gate above the 85-degree pitch of the Mausefalle (Mousetrap) that was lit up especially for the occasion and sped to the bottom unscathed to become the first person, male or female, to ski the course at night. An unprecedented achievement. The 38 year old, who retired because she was, as she said, “broken beyond repair,” described the experience as “a dream come true” and second only to her 2012 Olympic gold medal as a career accomplishment.

If you have not seen it, you can watch it here: http://www.redbull.com/int-en/lindsey-vonn-downhill-skier-streif-kitzbuhel-night.

While I love the NFL, the inspiration offered up by these three women this week trumps the playoffs.

Go, Gu!!