Her latest overall title, Fourth for Track Keepers, is just what Mikaela Shiffrin needed to settle doubts.
Not one of the critics and trolls who were ready to write her off after her struggle at the Beijing Olympics. His own
The past two years have been the most challenging, exhausting and troublesome of Shiffrin’s career, and they wondered if she would ever return to the form that made her so influential. His performance in Beijing, where he did not finish an individual technical race or win a single medal, only left him with more questions.
But the big Crystal Globe, the full-season title-winning award she’s bringing home from Europe this week, is a sign she’s on track once again.
“(The overall title) feels special for a number of reasons, but especially because I think it represents more than just this season. It’s about much more than just success,” Shiffrin told USA Today Sports on Monday. “The Globe itself, for me, represents a two-year long journey back to a place in ski racing where I could really compete consistently for the top level.
“If you had asked me at this time last year if I might be in that position, I would have said no, there’s absolutely no chance.”
Ahead of her 23rd birthday, two-time Olympic champion Shiffrin had perhaps the biggest season in ski racing history in 2018-19. She won a record 17 World Cup races, including three Super-G victories, which made her the first alpine skier, male or female, to win in all six disciplines. She claimed her third consecutive overall title as well as the season title in the slalom, giant slalom and Super-G.
The following year, it all fell apart.
Shifrin was devastated by the unexpected death of her father, Jeff, on February 2, 2020. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic erased the end of the season, and made his normal off-season training impossible.
He got a late start in the 2020-21 season due to a back injury. Of greater concern was the exhaustion and lack of focus he felt throughout the season, a sign of his grief.
“I couldn’t find a way to keep myself focused through two runs in one race, let alone keep going throughout the season,” Shifrin said.
Despite a back injury that cost her two weeks of training in December, and a battle with COVID that left her in isolation for eight days after Christmas, Shiffrin appeared to be making a comeback this season.
His 47th slalom victory set the record for most wins in a single discipline. Her five World Cup victories put her 74 overall, third behind Ingmar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82). Shiffrin’s 14 podium finishes, in four events, were the most for any woman this season.
Then came Beijing.
After recording three Did Not finishes over a four-year period, he had three in 11 days at the Olympics. His best performance in Super-G was ninth.
More troubling than the results was that for the first time in Shiffrin’s career, they didn’t align with how she felt. She has always been able to count on the fact that, if she was skiing well in training and feeling good about her preparation, she would go on to race. She may not always win, but more often than not she wins.
In Beijing, however, Shifrin felt good. He had solid training sessions. He had complete faith in his running strategy. Yet it all evaporated as soon as she left the starting gate, and she found herself questioning everything she was so sure she knew.
“I still don’t have a really important reason or a really great explanation for why the Olympics went the way they did for me,” she said. “Maybe I really don’t need an explanation. Especially after the last few weeks, my skiing, in all events, is still brisk.”
In his first race after Beijing, Schiffrin finished second in the Super-G in Lanzerheide, Switzerland. She was fourth in the giant slalom the next day, then third in the GS race the following weekend in Hey, Sweden.
She won the World Cup final downhill last Wednesday, then finished second in the Super-G the next day to take the overall title. Schiffrin is now tied with Vaughan for the second most titles, two shy of the record six won by Annemarie Moser-Proel.
“It is good to take some distance from the performance in Beijing and realize that nothing has really changed there. It boils down to good skiing and, obviously, finishing it,” said Shiffrin.
“The volatility I felt in Beijing seems to be stabilizing over the past few weeks. It’s like, ‘Okay, things are going a little bit more. Understanding again.’ The results seem to be in line with skiing and mindset.
“It just adds up better.”
Given the vitriol spewing at him by petty people during Beijing and those who don’t understand the Olympics isn’t the only, or best, measure of an alpine skier’s career, it’s understandable that if Shiffrin had caused the disappearance. Would have decided for a while. Instead he chose to persevere, a testament to the strength of both his spirit and character.
The despair that Shifrin feels about Beijing will probably stay with her forever, as will the sorrows of these past two years. By winning the overall title, she has shown herself that the talent and focus that has made her one of the best has stayed with her as well.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.