Mikaela Shiffrin poses for a portrait with her two medals at the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
On the eve of New Year’s Eve, Mikaela Shiffrin was in Norway prepping for a FIS World Cup city event (parallel slalom) and talking to the media about all the records she has broken in 2018. The 23-year-old alpine skier closed out the year by winning her 36th slalom world cup on Saturday to set the women’s record for career slalom wins, breaking her childhood idol Marlies Schild’s mark of 35.
It was Shiffrin’s 15th world cup win in the calendar year — also the most in history, breaking her tie with Marcel Hirscher.
And it was her 51st career world cup win. Shiffrin currently stands in fourth on the all-time world cup win list for women and seventh overall. With four more world cup wins, she will move into sixth overall, passing the legendary Hermann Maier from Austria, who has 54. Add another, and she will move into third on the women’s list, passing Swiss skier Vreni Schneider (55 wins).
With those numbers attainable this season, only Ingemar Stenmark (86 wins), Lindsey Vonn (82 and counting), Hirscher (63 and counting) and Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) have more.
If Shiffrin keeps up this win rate, she will pass Stenmark’s 86 in the next three seasons.
The stats go on and on, and it’s easy to come up with more. Most world cup podium wins in one season? Shiffrin racked up 20 in 2018. Only Hirscher has won more (21). Stenmark, Vonn, Moser-Proell and Schneider topped out at 19.
Most wins in one alpine discipline? Vonn has 46 wins in downhill. Shiffrin is only 10 behind in slalom.
Most world cup slalom wins overall? Stenmark has 40. Shiffrin will likely surpass that mark this season.
Then there are the 2019 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in February. Shiffrin could become the first alpine skier ever to win four slalom world titles in a row, passing her tie with Christl Cranz, who won three consecutive titles back in the 1930s when world championships were held annually (of note, Cranz won six successive titles in the combined).
But Shiffrin has always said that stats and records don’t matter to her. They aren’t her motivation for skiing fast. She does realize, however, that stats and records are what sell the sport to the public, so she is more than happy to spend an evening chatting about them.
Her real motivation? To keep improving. To work hard and have it pay off. She’s in search of the perfect run — a race through the gates where she makes no mistakes. Given the dynamic nature of skiing and the myriad variables (weather, course conditions, even the tune of one’s skis), it’s one goal she will likely never achieve.
So What Is Shiffrin Most Proud Of In 2018?
She is most proud of her Olympic gold medal in giant slalom. It is one of her three Olympic medals (gold from the 2014 slalom, gold in the 2018 giant slalom and silver in the 2018 combined), which tie her with Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller as the only U.S. skiers to have Olympic medals in three different disciplines. Winning it was “one of my most proud moments of this year, if not my entire career.”
“It felt like a long time coming with my GS skiing,” she said.
She has yet to achieve giant slalom dominance to match her slalom, though. Giant slalom still feels like a work in progress for the slalom phenom. Since PyeongChang, Shiffrin has only won one giant slalom world cup (though finished on the podium three times), and she was honest about the reasons.
“In training I feel like I’m at a level to win consistently,” she confessed. “But in the races, sometimes the nerves get in the way, sometimes I overthink it, and sometimes I'm just not willing to take the risk necessary in order to really win.”
What Are Shiffrin’s Goals For 2019?
Although Shiffrin is currently leading the world cup super-G standings in a season where she earned her first super-G win — a feat she was not expecting, nor does she expect to maintain the lead — her goals remain the same.
Shiffrin wants to win her sixth world cup slalom title this season, claim her first giant slalom title (she’s currently in third place), and she aims to claim the overall title for the third consecutive time. At the dawn of 2019, she sits a whopping 466 points ahead of runner-up Petra Vlhova and 100 points ahead of the Slovakian skier in slalom.
Then there are those world championship titles — “another beast,” Shiffrin said with a laugh. She is a favorite to defend her slalom title and would no doubt like to bolster her giant slalom Olympic gold with a world championship medal of the same color; she won silver in giant slalom in 2017.
On Breaking The Records
Despite not finding motivation in ski-racing stats, Shiffrin did confess to feeling emotional about breaking Schild’s slalom win record.
Earlier this month, she dreamed about breaking Schild’s record and found herself crying “a little bit.” The tears almost came again on Saturday when she realized that it would likely happen.
“I would say that there’s a pretty large part of me that never wanted to pass Marlies,” Shiffrin said. “I wanted her to have that record because I always felt like she deserved it.”
“She led the way in slalom skiing,” added Shiffrin, who maintains that Schild will always be the best slalom skier in her mind. “She made it possible for me to do what I am currently doing, and I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”
What was it about Schild’s skiing that had such an impact on Shiffrin?
The Austrian was “living proof that fundamentals work.” Schild was a technically strong ski racer, unlike some racers who ski through the gates on the edge, almost out of control. To Shiffrin, who is famous for preferring drills to free skiing, Schild’s focus on fundamentals was inspiring.
“Here’s proof that this is going to work, that these drills are going to pay off, that you can ski well and technically disciplined, and it will be fast,” Shiffrin recalled her coach, Kirk Dwyer at Burke Mountain Academy, telling her.
Now Shiffrin hopes that her skiing will inspire others the way Schild inspired her. But with her usual humility and a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, Shiffrin has not yet reflected on the milestones she has achieved or the trajectory of her stratospheric career.
“Right now, the perspective I have is I’m sitting in my hotel room in Oslo, and it’s pitch black outside, and I’m going to the gym in a few minutes, to do some core and mobility (exercises),” she said with a laugh. “That’s my perspective.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.