Mikaela Shiffrin had just finished eating lunch on Thursday in the picturesque French Alps village of Courchevel. An hour earlier, with a second-place finish in a super-G race —
one day after a victory in a downhill race — Shiffrin clinched the World Cup’s season-long overall title, ski racing’s biggest prize, representing the highest achiever in a globe-trotting, six-month, 37-race marathon.
For Shiffrin, 27, it was her fourth overall title, tying her for the American record held by Lindsey Vonn. Only one woman, the six-time winner Annemarie Moser-Proll of Austria, has more.
By many measures, Shiffrin has had a good year.
How then does she explain the lasting images of her troubled 2022 Beijing Olympics odyssey: three stunning tumbles to the snow in three of her best events?
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“It is confusing,” she conceded in a telephone interview on Thursday. She went on to offer several thoughts and theories but then stopped herself.
“I’m rambling,” she said. There was a simpler explanation.
“Some days it doesn’t work out; it just happened to be at the races that most people watch every four years,” Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion, finally said. “You can try too hard and it ends up backfiring, and after 11 years of my career, I know that and I didn’t find the right balance in China.
“But it doesn’t define what’s happened in my past and it doesn’t define what’s going to happen in the future. It was an honest failure and we don’t have to overanalyze that.”
Those comments were in contrast Shiffrin’s profound soul-searching Shiffrin minutes after her disquieting crashes at the Games. But Shiffrin is a month removed from the 2022 Olympics and back on more familiar territory. She said she still felt a “little embarrassed,” about the Games, where she did not win a medal in any of her five events, but added that, “I’m also proud that I got back up and raced and never stopped trying.”
Shiffrin has now been on the podium in four of her last six World Cup races. On Thursday, Shiffrin, a three-time Olympian who is on a pace to set every major ski racing record, laughed as she said: “Today was a good day. Yesterday was a good day. I’m pretty sure there will be more good days.”
As the season-ending World Cup finals continue this weekend in France, Shiffrin has two more races and will be among the favorites in each. Since the finals are the rare time the men’s and women’s circuits convene at the same venue, Shiffrin has also been reunited with her boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who won silver and bronze medals at the Beijing Games for Norway. After Wednesday’s women’s downhill victory, which was Shiffrin’s first win in the discipline in two years, Kilde met her in the finish area for a long embrace.
“What a day,” Kilde said.
The duo trained on the Eclipse downhill racecourse at Courchevel on Monday. Hours before Shiffrin’s victory, Kilde claimed the World Cup men’s downhill season-long title, 14 months after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He added the super-G discipline title the next day.
“It’s been wonderful to be able to see Aleks and it’s been a very exciting week for him, too,” Shiffrin said. “There’s just better energy going around us and that’s been quite special. Just being able to talk with him has helped realign some perspectives.
“There’s a lot of things that I have to really be grateful for, especially with everything that has been going on with Ukraine over these last weeks. There’s some serious, real crap going on in the world this year.”
Shiffrin said that the potential for a military conflict in Ukraine was a constant backdrop in the Olympic athletes’ village.
“The Olympics were an interesting place to be, it was kind of insane to be there competing when we also knew that Russia was lining the borders of the Ukraine,” she said. “And then seeing some of the Ukrainian athletes there and wondering what they were thinking and then it was just like, ‘OK, we’re just going to have the Olympics now.’
“It was very strange.”
For most of the season, Shiffrin said her emotions have been up and down.
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“Obviously, the Olympics were some of my lowest moments in ski racing, and even in life,” she said. “That was a hard wall to climb over. But winning the overall title came into focus as a big goal. And sometimes the natural balance of life sways in different directions.
“I don’t really believe in fate or that things are meant to be, but somehow it has felt just slightly easier in the last four days than it has felt for the last couple months of this season. I’ve taken a breath and letting myself enjoy it more.
“You know, really enjoy the good days. Today was a good day.”