Mikaela Shiffrin has won almost everything there is to win in alpine skiing.
-Olympic gold medal? Check.
-World championship title? Check. Three, in fact. She is the three-time defending slalom champion (2013, 2015, 2017).
-Overall world cup crown? Check. She won 11 races in 2017 and won the overall title by 318 points.
-World cup discipline title? Check. Four slalom titles, from 2013-2015 and 2017.
-World cup win? She has 31 — and counting.
So what’s left for the 22-year-old phenom to conquer? Lots, in fact. And she starts the 2017-18 season racing a FIS World Cup giant slalom this weekend in Soelden, Austria.
More Olympic Gold Medals
On a clear February night in Russia’s Caucasus mountains in 2014, Shiffrin overcame a bobble in her second slalom run and won her first Olympic gold medal. She was 18 at the time — the youngest-ever Olympic slalom champion. It was the first gold for the U.S. women in slalom since 1972.
“To this day, I haven’t had a chance to let it sink in,” Shiffrin said during a Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, in late September. “You go straight into media, you’re answering questions about what this means to you, and you don’t even realize what it means to you. By the time you have a chance to sit down, the moment’s past, and you continue on your way.”
“The best way to realize it is to go to Korea and win some more,” she concluded.
Should Shiffrin defend her Olympic slalom title during the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, she will be the first American skier ever to do so. Only six other skiers have ever defended an Olympic title in alpine skiing.
But Shiffrin is not just eyeing slalom this year. She has made significant strides in giant slalom, winning three world cup races last year and finishing second twice, including a silver-medal finish at the 2017 world championships. She ended the season ranked second overall in giant slalom in the world cup standings.
Should Shiffrin win the slalom and giant slalom gold medals in PyeongChang, she would become the second American skier to win two golds in one Games. Andrea Mead Lawrence won Olympic gold medals in slalom and giant slalom at the 1952 Games.
But wait! There’s more. Shiffrin is planning on competing in three or four events at the 2018 Winter Games. The combined is likely her third event. She won a combined race in February 2017, overcoming a 1.3-second deficit in the super-G to win by 0.7 seconds.
She also hopes to compete in the super-G in PyeongChang. But the U.S. has a strong women’s speed team. And Shiffrin will be competing against world cup podium finishers Lindsey Vonn, Stacey Cook, Laurenne Ross, Leanne Smith, Alice McKennis and Jackie Wiles for one of the four spots in the Olympic speed races.
Shiffrin is realistic: “If there are four other girls who have a better shot of medaling in the super-G, then they would be much more likely to race super-G than I would.”
“If I compete in four events, it’s because I feel like I have a shot to win a medal in four events,” she added. “That’s my goal.”
Only one alpine skier has ever won four medals in one Olympic Games: Janica Kostelic from Croatia won three golds and a silver at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Should Shiffrin win three Olympic medals in PyeongChang, she would join Bode Miller as the only American alpine skiers to have accomplished this feat in one Games. Only four women and five men, including Miller, have won three alpine medals in the same Games.
As for five medals (which no skier has ever won in the same Games), Shiffrin thinks the PyeongChang downhill “looks amazing,” but again is realistic: “We have a stacked speed team.”
“Five might be biting off too much, even though I did go on record [in Sochi] saying I want five gold medals,” she said, then added jokingly, “I want the world and to be the king of the universe.”
More World Cup Titles
Along with more Olympic hardware, Shiffrin would like to add more world cup crystal globes to her trophy cabinet. She won her first overall world cup title last year — adding her first 18-inch tall, 16-pound JOSKA crystal globe to her luggage. Plus, she added her fourth slalom globe — a smaller 9-inch, 7-pound trophy.
This season, she is aiming to defend the overall title, add another slalom crown and win her first giant slalom world cup globe.
The Olympic Games are “the pinnacle of the season,” said Shiffrin. But she is not prioritizing the Games in front of these other goals. One goal should lead to the others.
“Really the best preparation for [the Olympics] is to just have a good season prior, so having strong performances leading up to the Games,” she said. “Then I can look at the Olympics as its own individual world cup race.
“I’m looking to be at the top in almost every single race. So if I go to the Olympics, it will be the same goal, and I don’t have to change my tactic, which makes it easy to keep all the goals at the same level of priority.”
World Cup Win Record
Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark currently holds the record of most world cup wins, with 86. But Lindsey Vonn, 33, is aiming to surpass that mark; she currently stands at 77 but won only one race last season.
Should Shiffrin stay on her current trajectory (and not suffer many injuries), she could break Stenmark’s record well before she turns 30. She already has 31 victories.
By his 22nd birthday, Stenmark had won 28 world cup races. By her 22nd birthday, Vonn had only won four. Both skiers hit their strides soon after, with Stenmark winning 34 races between ages 22 and 24, and Vonn winning 31 between ages 25 to 27.
The most won in one season was 13 for Stenmark (age 22) in slalom and giant slalom and 12 for Vonn (age 27) in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and combined. Shiffrin won 11 races last season (age 21): six slaloms, three giant slaloms, one combined and one dual slalom.
Shiffrin’s Biggest Challenge
But ask Shiffrin what challenge she next wants to conquer, and she will list none of these records. Raised to focus on the process and steady improvement, she said the next challenge often feels like “the very next day of skiing.”
“One of the biggest challenges for me right now is finding the ways to improve when I’m at the top of slalom, I’m close to the top in GS and feeling like if the speed is there, even if I don’t feel like my technique is all the way there; how do I get my technique to be stronger without losing speed?” she said.
“So some of my biggest challenges don’t even have to do with race results. It’s just my day-to-day building strength, building speed, building technique, and being more confident on my skis.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.