Vail Daily’s Freud: Five more years? Predicting Mikaela Shiffrin’s future
VAIL — What if Mikaela Shiffrin decided right now to retire?
In addition to catching us with our collective pants down, the Alpine world would tremble in shock, evaluate Shiffrin’s place in history and retire to its fainting couch.
Of course, she’s not retiring 11 months before the Olympics, because very few do. Next year at World Cup finals, we’ll be hip deep in retirements and final runs in fun costumes.
Shiffrin will be 27 this time next year, so it’s not like she’s ready for the early buffet dinner special somewhere in Florida, but she is closer to the end of her career than the beginning. She made her debut just before she turned 16 back in 2011.
If not now, when? And why? Here’s why we think — if she stays healthy, which is the biggest “if” facing all ski racers — that we have five more seasons of Shiffrin before she retires after the 2025-26 season at age 31.
How can Mikaela be ‘old?’
Mikaela turned 26 just before World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
She is in the prime of her career and should remain so for the next few years, at least. Yes, tech skiers age faster than downhillers since they rely on reflexes for the quick turns.
But if you look at the top 10 women on the World Cup and their ages, Mikaela’s right in the middle. Italy’s Federica Brignone is 30 and Lara Gut-Behrami is 29. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger is the youngest at 23. World Cup champion Petra Vlhova, of Slovakia, is 25, a year younger than Shiffrin.
We’re fine now, but there’s no fix for age. Mikaela may age athletically in a graceful manner and continue to be successful. It wouldn’t surprise in the slightest.
The clock is still ticking. Shiffrin is going to get older. The Vlhovas and the Liensbergers will be younger, as will be other challengers we don’t know yet.
Events and location
Worlds and Olympics trump the regular World Cup schedule, certainly in Shiffrin’s mind. In retrospect, the 2020-21 World Cup season was all a rehearsal for the world championships in Cortina, Italy, and the 2021-22 season will be a similar grind to the Olympics in Beijing.
But what about Beijing? We already mapped out what events she will enter, but we did leave out one important variable: The hill. We have no clue, and neither does Mikaela, what the venue is like for next year’s Olympics.
Like Shiffrin’s previous Olympic experiences in Sochi (2014) and Pyeongchang (2018), Beijing isn’t a normal World Cup stop, not even close to one. The test events that usually accompany the debut of a new course on tour or on the Olympics have been canceled because of COVID-19.
Shiffrin’s going to be going into the Olympics blind. We don’t know if the Beijing venue is going to be like Sochi (too warm) or Pyeongchang (a wind tunnel). It doesn’t snow much in Yanquing, the site 40 miles northwest of Beijing, so they’re making snow for the games.
One of the reasons why some racers believe that worlds are better than the Olympics is that they’re held at traditional World Cup sites and future sites of those are favorable.
The 2023 worlds are in Courchevel, France. Shiffrin’s won five times there. Saalbach, Austria, has 2025, and while it hasn’t hosted the women’s World Cup, it is a traditional men’s venue. What’s more, it’s Austria and that country does worlds well.
While FIS hasn’t selected the site for 2027, Crans-Montana, Switzerland, is the favorite. That’s a Shiffrin favorite, too, as she’s won twice there. And looking ahead to the 2026 Olympics, they’re being split between Milan and Cortina, Italy.
First reaction: The Olympics will be somewhere World Cup races are held, a victory in itself. Second reaction: Mikaela really likes skiing in Cortina. She won the combined, took silver in the giant slalom and bronze in both super-G and slalom.
By 2026, if all goes as planned, Mikaela is 31 and competing in her fourth Olympics in Cortina.
Whether Shiffrin admits it or not — unlike, say, Lindsey Vonn, she doesn’t — she is watching her place in history. Of course, Shiffrin doesn’t track history like Vonn did because no one does. But despite her protestation to the contrary every time she sets a new record of some form, Shiffrin is watching the numbers.
The missing medal from Shiffrin’s collection is the worlds GS gold. The modern record for most gold medals at worlds is seven (Austria’s Toni Sailer, France’s Marielle Goitschel and Sweden’s Anja Paerson). Shiffrin is sitting on six. Both can happen in 2023 at Courchevel and/or 2025 at Saalbach.
The only American to win double gold at one Olympics is Andrea Mead Lawrence in 1952. The only three Americans with two Olympic Alpine golds are Lawrence, Ted Ligety and Shiffrin. Shiffrin’s got two more shots at the double with Beijing and Milan-Cortina and should stumble into a record third American gold at one of the two Olympics.
And, of course, there is 86, the biggest record, Ingemar Stenmark’s career World Cup win total. Vonn’s at 82. Shiffrin’s at 69. While outside actors like to foment hostility between the Vonn and Shiffrin camps, the latter was doubtless watching the former trying to break 86 and took some notes.
Seventeen wins in five years doesn’t seem like a stretch, but we also had penciled Lindsey in to break and exceed handily Stenmark’s record, and that never happened.
Given where Shiffrin is in her career, where the major events of the next five years are and the goals she probably has in mind, five more years and a finale during the 2025-26 season seems about right.