Mikaela Shiffrin’s path to the World Cup ski racing record

Three years ago, Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t know if she’d race again. On Saturday in Arey, Sweden, she won her 87th World Cup race and became the most successful alpine skier in history, eclipsing the 34-year-old record held by Swedish legend Ingmar Stenmark. Just 27, Shiffrin “reset” Steinmark’s record – a word she prefers over “broken” – in 1,170 fewer days than it took the 66-year-old to reach her 86th World Cup win in 1989.

Shiffrin re-establishing Stenmark’s record in her home country of Sweden was a feat not only of athleticism, but also of symmetry. Shiffrin also won her first World Cup race, a slalom, in Arey in 2012 at the age of 17.

“I’ve experienced everything here. My experiences at Aarey have been tumultuous and completely alive,” Shiffrin said after the first of two victories on Friday. “I won my first World Cup race here, had my first major injury here, had great races and tough races. This is the first place I was going to get back into ski racing after my father died. For, it somehow feels like the sway of karma has got involved.”

There was a time when everyone in Shiffrin’s camp believed that the day would come.

She talked about the possibility when she was a student at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, practicing technical drills on rest days while her teammates were away riding pow. And when he won his first World Cup race at the age of 17 and his first overall title four years later.



Is Mikaela Shiffrin Now the Greatest Skier of All Time?

Alyssa Roenigk puts into perspective the significance of Mikaela Shiffrin surpassing Ingmar Stenmark’s World Cup record.

After earning her second Olympic gold medal in PyeongChang in 2018, she continued a phenomenal streak in 2019 by winning three consecutive World Cup overall titles and 17 races. “I never thought she’d lose [the overall] again,” Shiffrin’s longtime coach Mike Day told ESPN last year.

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

After Shiffrin’s father, Jeff, died 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 closed in on her before she could try racing. “The last few years, I didn’t know if she would win a [an overall title] again,” Day said.

After months of isolation, a persistent back injury, a tough bout with COVID-19 and his shocking performance in Beijing last February, even die-hard Shiffrin fans couldn’t see a world in which Within a year of “those” Olympics, she would win two more overall titles, eclipsing Lindsey Vonn as the winningest woman in alpine skiing and breaking Stenmark’s long-standing record.

But since skiing an unusually high three times out of bounds in Beijing, Shiffrin has been remarkable. Just three weeks later, she won the third downhill race of her career in Courchevel, France, to secure the overall World Cup title for 2022, her fourth. In the first half of the 2022-23 season, he won six consecutive races across three disciplines. In February, she earned four medals at the World Championships, including her first gold in the giant slalom. A month later, she won her fifth overall World Cup title, eclipsing Vonn for the second most overall titles in history. She is the only skier, male or female, to win at least one race in all six World Cup disciplines and is the owner of an incredible 14 World Championship medals, seven of them gold, in 17 starts. In a sport where the word “sustainability” is rarely uttered, Shiffrin has made it his standard.

And it’s not just that Shiffrin is now the greatest alpine skier in history by numbers. Here’s how she’s done it: quickly, becoming as complete a skier as the sport has ever seen, dominating her competition and doing it all with a generous, open-hearted charm.

“I think what allows Mikaela to do this is the purity of wanting to not only be the best in the world but to be herself every time she goes out,” says Paul Christofik, head alpine coach for US Ski & Snowboard. becomes the best version of.” , “She’s determined, studious and reflective in a way that everything she does on or off the hill is about holding herself accountable. She’s an incredible student of the sport and is extremely trainable. She’s passionate about perfect skiing.” Passionate and that’s what she’s trying to do. Every time she goes out.”

Certainly, there are more races and more opportunities today to stack the W’s than in Stenmark’s time. It is also more common for athletes to cross the techno-speed divide. “Forty years ago, they were very different subjects,” says Christofik. Steinmark was the technical expert. His 86 wins all came in slalom (40) and GS (46). Today, downhill and super G courses (speed events) are so technical that they require a skier with the same skill set to win a GS or a slalom. Just look at Vaughan. One of the greatest downhill skiers of all time, he won those events as well.

But with more running comes a greater potential for injury, fatigue and burnout. Shiffrin’s ability to stay healthy and motivated despite her busy schedule has been her biggest asset.

“It’s not just the racing season that’s grueling, but the year-round preparation to compete in multiple disciplines,” says Christofik. “It’s an everyday proposition for a racer like Mikaela. But her technical proficiency reduces her risk of injury. When she’s pushing herself in training and trying to find the technical and tactical limits or the limits of her equipment She doesn’t find herself in hot water when she does. In races, she rarely gets into situations where she requires massive recovery and risks injury.”

Shiffrin repeatedly says that she is not focused on the record. She says that anyone in her position can understand what she means. After achieving the milestone in Semmering, Austria, she said, “If I had initially been thinking about winning my 80th race, I would not have won. I was thinking about the course ahead and the skiing and that I have to be smart and I have to be tough and I have to be patient.”

Focusing on Vonn’s record, or Stenmark’s record, doesn’t make Shiffrin the greatest of all time. They were arbitrary targets set by someone else’s scheming. She didn’t want her 87th win to feel more important than her 70th or her fifth – or even her 100th ODI. Every victory is an achievement.

Shiffrin became the greatest of all time by focusing on the same things she did as an eighth-grader at Burke: her technique, her search for the right turn and the course in front of her. Every year, including this one, she focuses her attention not on wins, but on consistency, overall, winning the GS and the Slalom Globe – all of which she’s already locked up this season.

Same is the condition of his team. “The records are wonderful, and humbling enough,” says Christofik, “but I can speak for everyone in the group when I say it’s not the driving force behind what we do every day.” “It takes a lot of hard work to prepare an athlete of Mikaela’s caliber to win a race.”

Plus, Shiffrin has plenty of people in her orbit—friends, family, the media (us!)—for her to focus on stats and records. Take Bretton “Bug” Peach, her best friend and high school roommate. Several years earlier, Pech began documenting Shiffrin’s performances in Excel in order to preserve his friend’s career and to settle an argument with an uncle, a ski racing fanatic living in Prague. “We had heard that Mikaela was the youngest to do something or was in motion to do something, but it never quite sunk in,” says Pech. “I started digging into win rate, time difference and tried to answer the question, ‘What’s the limit of this game?'”

Pech shared his spreadsheet with ESPN — after fact-checking his data three times — and we enlisted him to help us chart the below on dominance, something that one of the world’s greatest alpine skiers Will generate huge eye-rolls. “I never talked to Mikaela about these spreadsheets,” Pech says, and laughs. “I don’t know if she knows I did it, but I couldn’t find that information anywhere.”

Of all the mind-boggling statistics Shiffrin says, Perch, a former ski racer at Boston College, says a few numbers stand out. One of his best events, slalom and GS, has been his ability to jump into the lead the first time he is run, and hold it while doing so in 40 of his 53 slalom wins. This means that 78% of the time, including Saturdays, she won on her first run.

Then there is the closing average marks against that. According to Petch, in a World Cup race, 100 points are awarded to the winner, 80 to second and 60 to third. In 246 starts, Shiffrin has averaged 60.9 points, or better than third, per race in the disciplines. “Everyone I know focuses on his win-to-starts ratio, which is an incredible 35% plus,” she says. “But she has an even better podium-to-win ratio because of her consistency in not only getting to the podium, but when she gets there, being number one.”

What charts and graphs and even best-friend spreadsheets don’t tell, however, is how unpredictable ski racing is and how many variables an athlete must overcome to win a World Cup race, by age 27. Forget about 87 in six subjects. Season. snow conditions. How courses are broken up during a race. Start command. Device. Luck. Shiffrin has been so consistent that this day felt inevitable. But it was never given. Thinking about it makes it a truly remarkable milestone.

“It’s like going from 100m to 5,000m and 10,000m as a runner and winning them all,” says Shiffrin’s longtime agent and former Olympic ski racer Kilian Albrecht. “But so hard. What he’s done is crazy. And it’s so hard to explain to people who don’t know the game.”

Those who understand how historic Shiffrin’s season is have gone out of their way to experience it in person. Petch flew to Prague from his home in Connecticut to attend his friend’s race at Spindleruv Mlyn. Shiffrin’s brother Taylor and his wife surprised her at Arey on Saturday. Fans line the course during Shiffrin’s training session. They wait downstairs for autographs and selfies, follow him through the streets. In January, an 82-year-old woman drove six hours from her home in Cortina, Italy, to Zagreb, Croatia, to watch Shiffrin race in the slalom. “She wanted to see history,” says Albrecht.

No one knows when Shiffrin will ski his last race or score his final World Cup win, so every win from here on is historic. Shiffrin says she can ski for another four years. Stenmark has said she is confident she will win 100 or more races. Now that he’s amassed 87 wins, Shiffrin hopes there’s less talk of the record. This may happen for a while. Until one day, when another young skier starts following Shiffrin.

ESPN editor Sachin Dave Chandan contributed to this report. Additional statistics from FIS and Ski-DB.

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