Shiffrin interviews Shiffrin: Mikaela’s mom, Eileen, asks the superstar skier questions on the Outside Podcast
Mikaela Shiffrin was also featured the cover of the "Outsiders of the Year" issue, which hit newsstands this week
Mikaela Shiffrin was featured on the cover of Outside’s “Outsiders of the Year” November-December print magazine, which hit newsstands this week. She and her mom, Eileen, were also featured on the brand’s podcast — in a unique format.
“In my 20-plus years of writing and editing and producing for Outside, I’ve seen a lot of creative approaches to storytelling,” stated podcast host Michael Roberts during the introduction to his Nov. 15 show. “But having an elite athlete interviewed by her mom? That’s a new one.”
Senior editor Abigail Barronian arranged the interview and generated a list of questions to send to Eileen and Mikaela, but also encouraged the mother-daughter pair to allow the conversation to be organic.
“We’ve done Mikaela profiles before, several times, and we just wanted to get something a little more genuine and raw. We really liked it because we thought that it would maybe give us an opportunity to see a version of Mikaela that you don’t normally see,” Barronian stated before adding that the plan worked.
“I came away from this interview more interested in Mikaela Shiffrin and Eileen than I ever have been.”
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At the beginning of the interview, Eileen got the chance to ask her daughter the question every reporter has asked over the last eight months: what it felt like to break Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time World Cup wins record.
“Oh gosh. I was mostly worried that I was gonna do it when you weren’t there,” Mikaela answered.
“I know. That’s when I said just do it,” Eileen came back.
Mikaela described the record-breaking moment as “kind of hectic.”
“Mostly because you get about ten and a half seconds to yourself and then, and then you’re sort of thrown into the media and the mix zone and you have to start talking about how you feel before you’ve processed how you feel,” she said. “I didn’t even feel it. And I was like, ‘oh my gosh, where’s mom?'”
Barronian thinks that quote exemplifies the relationship.
“Eileen represents Mikaela professionally and helps her with her managing her team and her schedule,” she stated. “(She) helps Mikaela develop her own training programs and think about what she needs to focus on with races, but (it’s) underpinned by this just, like, deeply loving, supportive, and trusting parent-child relationship.”
Producer Paddy O’Connell narrated Shiffrin’s move from Colorado to Vermont, saying, “As Mikaela’s racing career took off, Eileen was there every step of the way and grew into her most trusted coach. In fact, the two times Eileen stepped away from coaching, Mikaela’s results suffered.”
Barronian noted the criticism the Shiffrin’s have received for Eileen’s intimate involvement, which she believes is “deeply maternal” and the result of Mikaela being thrust into the public eye as a teen prodigy.
“When the nature of your life changes so dramatically at such a young age, it makes a lot of sense that you would want this really constant figure to be there,” Barronian said.
Mikaela and Eileen would catch up on walks a couple times a week while at Burke; Mikaela said at one point, the parent of a classmate suggested the closeness was “kind of strange.”
“And that’s kind of how a lot of people have been through my whole life, through our whole relationship,” Mikaela said.
“I just remember, like, that particular conversation on that walk and us both being kind of frazzled by the question, because it was like, what’s wrong with being close to your family, you know?”
“Yeah. You and I have a multifaceted relationship. I’m your mom, and to some extent your manager, and to some extent your coach, and we’re also best friends,” Eileen responded. “And a lot of people assume that, and ask you, I guess ask both of us, if it was hard for us to develop that multifaceted relationship.”
When asked by her mom how the relationship has evolved as she’s stepped into new roles over the years, Mikaela said she felt their closeness — which she called a “fundamental premise in our family philosophy — has always been “a gift.”
“I was like, ‘please look, come look at my skiing with me, help me,’ you know, ‘help me figure out what I want to do next technically.’ And let’s have dinner and like, you know, let’s let’s hang out. You know, it was just, it was such a natural thing. It’s always been that way,” the 28-year-old said.
“I feel like a factor that’s set me apart through my ski career to have that closeness with you and with dad and Taylor and just with family in general.”
In the second half of the interview, Eileen asked Mikaela what the hardest part of widespread fame has been.
“You are kind of naturally an introvert who was put in a spotlight and kind of forced to assume a role on the ski team and also a role as a, trying to be a role model for other kids, other athletes on the team,” Eileen said in kicking off the topic.
“It’s forced me a little bit to learn how to be a bit more comfortable with myself,” Mikaela answered before explaining that at Burke Academy, if she had to go to the cafeteria alone, she simply skipped meals.
“I had such a fear of like showing up … to a room alone when it’s already full, there’s no seats open and you’re just carrying your tray and you’re standing there like everybody’s already in their conversation. Nobody’s missing me.”
Although she said a similar fear-based response remains her “natural instinct,” Shiffrin also stated she feels more comfortable “with myself to just do what I need to do, exist how I want to exist and not be quite so worried about what eyes are on me anymore.”
Even though coaches, managers, and other authority figures have guided her life for so long, the Olympic champion said she’s never fought for her independence.
“It’s more just been a learning experience, I think,” she said. Eileen added she thinks Mikaela has “stayed true” to the personality she was born with.
“From my perspective anyway, throughout it all, you are able to hold on to that kind of kind, gentle, compassionate personality and not succumb to the peer pressure that goes on during the teenage years when there’s so much pressure to be cool,” Eileen said.
“It didn’t really seem to matter to you because you had so much on your plate already. You just seemed to keep your eye on the target all the time. You never seem to think it was uncool to be kind.”
Shiffrin said her mom has kept her grounded, especially in moments where she’s tempted to adopt the “air of coolness” inherent to a sport which includes flying down an icy slope at 70 miles per hour.
“There’s kind of this extra swagger that I, we’ve always felt like it’s a little bit unnecessary. But when you’re around it a lot, you feel like it’s an eat or be eaten world and you have to, you have to fend for yourself,” Mikaela said.
“And you have always brought me back down to earth in those scenarios and helped me kind of remember, OK, I can just be me. It’s enough.”