Mikaela Shiffrin wins world championship giant slalom in Meribel, France
Skier sets record for most individual world championship medals in modern era two days after splitting with longtime coach
One day after the news broke that Mikaela Shiffrin had split with her long-time coach, the Edwards superstar went back to what she knows: record-breaking.
Shiffrin won Thursday’s giant slalom at the 2023 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in Meribel, France with a combined time of 2 minutes, 7.13 seconds, 0.12 seconds ahead of Italian Federica Brignone. Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel rounded out the podium, with defending giant slalom world champion Lara Gut-Behrami finishing in fourth.
With her 13th-career world championships medal in 16 tries, Shiffrin broke the modern era (since 1948) record for the most individual world championship medals. The great Swedish skier Anja Parson has 13 medals as well, but two were team event wins and German skier Christl Cranz won 15 medals in the 1930s. Shiffrin also tied Parson, Marielle Goitschel, Marcel Hirscher and Toni Sailer with the most world titles (7).
“Yeah that’s unbelievable. I was so nervous — I just can’t believe it,” Shiffrin said.
“I don’t know if I can put a value on any medal, but today felt very special. It’s a moment I’m going to remember forever.”
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Already twice a silver medalist (2017 and 2021) and once a bronze medalist (2019) in the giant slalom, the American also became the fourth woman to win a world championships gold medal in at least four different disciplines and became just the third U.S. woman to win a giant slalom world title (Andrea Mead-Lawrence did in 1952, when the Olympic Games doubled as the world championships, and Diann Roffe-Steinrotter was victorious in 1985).
When asked why it “took so long” to add GS to the golden page of her world championships resume, Shiffrin chuckled.
“I think because when we take these big events — Olympics or worlds — everything boils down to one race, so the chances of it going really well are actually really small,” she said.
“I’ve been working on GS skiing for so long and trying to get to the consistency where I am now — and aggression — and this year I’m skiing the best giant slalom of my life. So, I’m trying to trust that, but it’s hard to believe that it can keep working … so today was just unbelievable.”
Shiffrin came into the event as the favorite, having won five of the eight women’s World Cup giant slalom events. She lived up to the hype in the first run, topping the leader board by gunning the 47-gate 378-meter Roc de Fer course in 1:02.54, 0.12 ahead of France’s two-time giant slalom world champion Tessa Worley and 0.31 ahead of this year’s combined gold medalist, Brignone. Gut-Behrami lurked in fourth, 0.64 back.
“I actually thought I was a bit slower than everybody on the last bit because on these pitches this season I’ve always been a bit off,” Shiffrin said after the first run.
“So when I was skiing I kept thinking ‘No, you have to push harder, push harder, push harder’, so I guess that was the right tactic in the end. My skiing felt really good and I think the most important thing was that I didn’t make any big mistakes.”
The sunny conditions and almost 40-degree Fahrenheit temperatures turned the slope’s snow into spring conditions. Worley, skiing with the lead in front of her home crowd, skidded out in the slush near the bottom of the course.
“I didn’t want to go for a medal, I wanted to go for the win,” Worley said.
Given Shiffrin’s tendency to give up first run leads occasionally in warming conditions, American fans held their collective breath when her advantage went from 0.63 seconds in the opening sector down to 0.31 by the next. Near the bottom of the course, the 27-year-old made a small error, giving back more time, but she maintained her composure, coming to the finish line with both a 0.12-second win and a mixed expression seeming to convey shock and relief.
“I couldn’t really believe it because I imagined on the second run messing up and losing it,” Shiffrin said. “With some of these other women, I just felt that maybe they could ski it stronger than I could so I was pushing as hard as I could.”
When she saw the scoreboard stay green and indicate her margin of victory, Shiffrin said she “just felt disbelief, proud and a bit lucky.”
Relief would have been another apt descriptor after a tumultuous week. Two days before Thursday’s giant slalom, her longtime coach, Mike Day, left suddenly after Shiffrin told him she wanted to change her staff at the end of the season.
“It’s been definitely some high levels of stress these days,” she said at the press conference.
“Keeping the focus is one of the most important things I can do. It’s one of my strengths, actually, but it was very, very difficult today to keep the focus and keep the intensity on the right level and the right direction to perform this way in this race.”
She paused, then continued, “Actually, I would like to just enjoy this moment today for what it is, despite the stress that’s gone on. But one thing I really want to say is just thank you to Mike for seven years of — I can’t even say helping me — he’s been such an integral part of my team and being there to support me through some of the most incredible moments of my career and some of the most challenging moments of my career and my life.”
“He’s been there to support me through it all,” she continued.
“It’s just a little bit sad how it came down. I think everyone wonders about the timing. It was never the intention to make an official announcement during the world championships.”
The coaching change prompted a media member to ask Shiffrin if she will train with her teammates more moving forward.
“We’ve been training together actually quite a bit this season,” she answered, adding that the only limiting factor is her need to train both speed and tech events. “I love to train with all of my teammates. They push me, especially Paula, and Nina as well. But yes, especially over the last couple of seasons and moving forward, I absolutely want to be more with my teammates whenever I can be.”
Nina O’Brien moved up 10 spots in her second run to finish in 11th as the second American.
“I think I just brought a little more fight and charge,” O’Brien said when asked what the difference between her two efforts was. “I was sending it, going for it. I knew I needed to lay down a good one if I wanted to move up and for me when I’m pushing that hard, the skiing all works out a little better, too.”
O’Brien broke her left tibia and fibula in a high-speed crash during the women’s giant slalom event in Beijing and spent some time recovering at All Points North Lodge in the Cordillera in Edwards.
“Just being here at the world championships was a big goal for me and something I really thought about throughout the whole rehab,” she said.
“And of course the healing and the rehab was the hard part but then the season also, just riding a rollercoaster — I had good days but also many disappointing days where I wasn’t even sure I would make this team or whether I’d be able to be back in the top 30. So to have a result like this means a lot to me.”
Paula Moltzan, who fractured her hand in Tuesday’s team event, posted a DNF in the first run.
“Obviously I pushed out of the start gate and I’m really proud of that but you always want more at world championships,” said Moltzan, who caught her boot inside over a roll, spun around and missed a gate. “But, we’re just going to take it day by day and hope for the slalom.”
Katie Hensien also finished 23rd for the U.S.
“I’m very proud; a new PR in GS for me and a really good second run,” Hensien said. “Super exciting for Mikaela, points for Nina — another top 15 — she’s just so inspirational and I’m just glad to be kind of close. And I get to train with them so hopefully I keep progressing.”
Shiffrin will race one more event — the slalom — at these worlds on Saturday. She already secured her seventh World Cup globe in the discipline this season and won four straight slalom world titles (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019) before taking bronze in the event in 2021.
“In a way, the pressure is off and the most important thing for me is to try and enjoy the last event of these world championships and enjoy my skiing,” Shiffrin said. “Because it feels really quite good.”