Mikaela Shiffrin is now the greatest alpine skier of all time

Three years ago, Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t know if she would race again. On Saturday in Are, Sweden, she won her 87th World Cup race and became the most successful alpine skier in history, beating Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s 34-year record. At 27 years old, Shiffrin “dropped” Stenmark’s record – a term she prefers to go broke – 1,170 days less than it took the 66-year-old to claim his 86th World Championships victory in 1989.

The fact that Shiffrin dropped Stenmark’s record in Sweden, his home country, was not only an act of athleticism, but also of symmetry. Shiffrin won her first World Cup race, also in slalom, in Are at the age of 17 in 2012.

“I have experienced everything here. My experience in Are was tumultuous and downright vibrant,” Shiffrin said Friday after the first of two wins there. “Here I won my first World Cup race, got my first serious injury, had great and difficult races. This is the first place where I was going to return to cross-country skiing after the death of my father. it feels like this influence of karma has been activated.”

There was a time when everyone in Camp Shiffrin believed this day would come.

They talked about the possibility when she was a student at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, doing technical exercises on her off days while her teammates were out parasailing. And when she won her first World Cup race at 17 and her first overall title just four years later.

After earning her second Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang in 2018, she continued her unprecedented streak by winning three consecutive world titles overall and 17 races in 2019 alone. “I never thought that she would lose [the overall] again,” longtime Shiffrin coach Mike Day told Sportzshala last year.

There was a time when no one believed that this day would come.

After Shiffrin’s father, Jeff, passed away unexpectedly in February 2020, she didn’t know if she could find the strength to ski again without his support. When she returned to the World Cup circuit a month later, the world shut down before she could try her hand at racing. “The last couple of years I didn’t know if she would win [an overall title] again,” Day said.

After months of isolation, a persistent back injury, an uphill battle with COVID-19, and her shocking performance in Beijing last February, even Shiffrin’s diehard fans couldn’t see a world where she would win two more overall titles a year before “those” Olympics. , will eclipse Lindsey Vonn as the best female alpine ski winner and break the long-standing Stenmark record.

But since Shiffrin went off-piste three times in Beijing, she’s been great. Just three weeks later, she won the third downhill race of her career in Courchevel, France to claim her fourth overall 2022 world title. In the first half of the 2022/23 season, she won six races in a row in three disciplines. In February, she won four medals at the World Championships, including her first gold in giant slalom. A month later, she captured her fifth world title overall, eclipsing Vonn with the second most titles in history. She is the only skier, male or female, to win at least one race in all six World Cup disciplines, and the winner of an incredible 14 World Championship medals, seven of which are gold, in 17 starts. In a sport where the word “consistency” is rarely spoken, Shiffrin has made it her standard.

And it’s not just that Shiffrin is now, by numbers, the greatest skier in history. Here’s how she did it: fast, being the most accomplished skier the sport has ever seen, dominating the competition and doing it all with a generous, open heart.

“I think what made Mikaela do this is because of the purity of her desire to not only be the best in the world, but to be the best version of herself every time she goes out,” says Paul Christofik, US Ski & Snowboard Head Ski Coach. . “She is determined, diligent and thoughtful in the sense that everything she does on or off the slope is about taking charge. do every time she comes out.”

Of course, today there are more races and more opportunities to build a W than in Stenmark’s day. Athletes are also more likely to cross the technical speed boundary. “Forty years ago, these were very different disciplines,” Christophic says. Stenmark was a technical specialist. All of his 86 victories came in slalom (40) and GS (46). Today, downhill and super-G courses (downhill events) are so much more technical that they almost require a skier with a skill set to win a giant slalom or slalom. Just look at Vaughn. One of the greatest skiers of all time, she also won these competitions.

But the more races, the greater the likelihood of injury, fatigue and burnout. Shiffrin’s ability to stay healthy and motivated despite her busy schedule has been one of her greatest strengths.

“It’s not just the racing season that’s grueling, but the year-round preparation for multi-discipline competitions,” Christophic says. “This is a daily task for a rider like Mikaela. But her technical prowess reduces the risk of injury. She doesn’t get into trouble when she tries to find the technical and tactical limits or the limits of her equipment in training. “In racing, she rarely gets into situations where she needs to seriously recover and risk injury.”

Shiffrin constantly says that he doesn’t focus on records. She says that anyone in her place will understand what she means. “If I had stood at the start thinking about my 80th race,” she said after reaching that milestone in Semmering, Austria, “I would not have won. I have to be smart, I have to be tough, and I have to be patient.”

Shiffrin didn’t become the greatest by focusing on the track record of Vaughn or Stenmark. These were arbitrary goals set by someone else’s skating. She didn’t want her 87th win to feel more important than her 70th, or her fifth, or her 100th win one day. Every victory is an achievement.

Shiffrin became the greatest ever by focusing on the same things she was obsessed with when she was an eighth grader at Burke: her technique, her pursuit of the perfect turn, and the track in front of her. Every year, including this one, she aims not for victory, but for consistency, for victory in the overall standings, slalom and slalom – all of which she has already won this season.

The same goes for her team. “The records are amazing and quite humiliating, but I can speak for everyone in the band when I say that this is not the driving force behind what we do every day,” Christophic says. “The job requires a lot of strength to prepare an athlete of Michaela’s level to win the race.”

On top of that, Shiffrin has a lot of people in her orbit – friends, family, the media (we!) – to focus on stats and records for her. Take, for example, Brighton “Bug” Pec, her best friend and roommate in high school. A few years ago, Pécs began documenting Shiffrin’s performances in Excel to keep up with her friend’s career and settle disputes with her uncle, a skiing fanatic who lives in Prague. “We heard that Mikaela was the youngest to do something, or was one step ahead to do something else, but it never really went deep,” Pech says. “I started digging into winrate, time difference and trying to answer the question, ‘What are the limits of this sport?’

Pec shared her spreadsheets with Sportzshala – after she triple-checked her data – and we selected them to help create the dominance chart below, something that would cause a giant eye-roll from the world’s greatest skier. “I never talked to Mikaela about those spreadsheets,” Pec says, and laughs. “I don’t know if she knows I did it, but I couldn’t find that information anywhere else.”

Pech, a former Boston College cross-country skier, says a few numbers stand out from all of Shiffrin’s mind-boggling statistics. It’s her ability to take the lead from her first run in her best events, slalom and giant slalom, and keep it in 40 of her 53 slalom victories. This means that 78% of the time, including Saturday, she has already won in her first run.

Then there is her average number of points per finish. In World Cup races, the winner gets 100 points, the second gets 80, and the third gets 60. In 246 starts, Shiffrin averaged 60.9 points, or better than third, across disciplines, according to Pech. “I know everyone is paying attention to her win-to-start ratio, which is an incredible 35%,” she says. “But her win-to-podium ratio is even steeper because of her consistency in not only getting on the podium, but when she gets there, being number one.”

However, charts, graphs and even spreadsheets of best friends don’t convey how unpredictable ski racing is and how many variables an athlete must overcome to win one World Cup race, let alone 87 in six disciplines by the age of 27. weather. Snow conditions. How courses break during a race. Start order. Equipment. Luck. Shiffrin was so consistent that this day seemed inevitable. But it was never a given. Thinking about it this way, we downplay a truly remarkable milestone.

“It’s like running from 100 meters to 5,000 and 10,000 meters as a runner and winning them all,” says Kilian Albrecht, Shiffrin’s longtime agent and former Olympic skier. “But much more difficult. What she did is just crazy. And it’s so hard to explain to people who don’t understand sports.”

Those who understand how historic the Shiffrin season is go out of their way to experience it in person. Pec flew from her home in Connecticut to Prague to attend her friend’s races in Spindleruv Mlyn. Shiffrin’s brother, Taylor, and his wife surprised her on Saturday in Are. Fans lined the lanes as Shiffrin practiced. They wait downstairs for autographs and selfies, follow her down the…

Source: www.espn.com

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