With gold and silver, Mikaela Shiffrin savors the ‘incredibly sweet’ moment
Special to The Aspen Times
JEONGSEON, South Korea — Mikaela Shiffrin had once hoped to win five gold medals at these Olympics.
A perfectly arranged schedule — her strongest events, the giant slalom and slalom, followed by speed events, with rest days spaced in between — made three or four or five medals look like a possibility.
But bad weather intervened, scrambling the schedule more and more. The women ended up racing three days in a row, followed by back-to-back races the following week — a grueling schedule for anyone seeking to race all of them.
She’ll end up with a gold and a silver, and she’s very happy with that outcome.
“To come away from this Olympics with two medals is insane, especially after the schedule changes,” she said. “It was like someone was playing a game of ping-pong in my brain.”
Lindsey Vonn is the greatest, but Shiffrin is the now and the future. At just 22 years old, Shiffrin already has more than half — 41 — of Vonn’s record 81 World Cup wins.
On Thursday, Vonn, 33, made a desperate attempt to medal in likely her last Olympic race, the alpine combined. Holding the lead, she “risked everything” on her slalom run — a discipline in which she barely even trains — and missed a gate within seconds of leaving the start gate.
But it was Shiffrin, skiing conservatively in the downhill and then with supreme confidence in her strongest discipline, the slalom, who stood on the podium with a silver medal.
“It’s incredible what she’s able to accomplish,” Vonn said. “She’s so young, and she approaches ski racing much differently than pretty much anyone else. I think she had potential to do a lot more these games. But at the same time, same as me, you can’t expect everything all the time.”
Vonn will leave Pyeongchang with a bronze medal. She said she wanted gold, but, taken in perspective — she has battled back from five years of near-constant injuries — it was a victory to achieve that much.
“I’m usually not satisfied with the bronze,” she said “But in this situation, I think I can be very happy with what I accomplished.”
Shiffrin said she is pleased with her own journey to these Games, and is optimistic about what’s ahead.
Four years ago in Sochi, she was a slalom specialist, winning gold in that event and not seen as a favorite in any other. This time around, she was an all-around threat, winning medals in the giant slalom and the alpine combined.
“Yeah, I talked about winning five golds,” she said. “It was more just the idea of improving my skiing enough in all events that I could contend for multiple medals. So to be in this position now is incredibly sweet. Moving forward, I know what to do to get better.”
Vonn — who won gold and bronze in Vancouver as a dominant skier at age 25, only to see her hopes to return four years later dashed by injuries — agreed that Shiffrin is capable of much more, but for now, it was time for Shiffrin to savor her success.
“I think she could ski for another 10 years and have a lot more medals and a lot more World Cups,” Vonn said. “But as I saw in my career, things change quite quickly. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why you appreciate every moment that you have.”
Baited by a reporter to make another four-years-from-now medal prediction, Shiffrin didn’t fall for it.
“Four years — it looks good, but anything can happen,” she said.
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