Can Mikaela Shiffrin win three at worlds? It’s hard to do for many reasons
Time for some history
So, you want to win three gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships? Easier said than done, even for an incredible racer like Mikaela Shiffrin.
It’s only been done 14 times by 12 people — Germany’s Christl Cranz (1936 and 1939) and Austrian Toni Salier (1956 and 1958) have done it twice during the 47 world championships dating back to 1931 — which includes the Winter Olympics during the 1930s and from 1948-1980.
• Worlds were held annually from their inception in 1931-1939, as a standalone competition or the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid in New York or Garmisch, Germany, in 1936
That is how Cranz holds the record for most golds (12) at world championships and most medals won (15) and probably will for the rest of time. Cranz holds an important place in the history of ski racing, however, if modern racers got a yearly crack at worlds, their numbers would be a bit higher.
Annual worlds also helped Cranz get the golden triple twice.
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• Only from 1982 onward did racers actually contest the combined. From 1931-1980, the combined was a paper race. Be it worlds or the Olympics, organizers traditionally added the times from the downhill and the slalom races and the men or women with the lowest times received medals.
Were we still operating under those rules, Shiffrin would have needed to run in Saturday’s downhill, which she didn’t, and then the slalom on Saturday, as planned. We’re not saying we wouldn’t have liked her chances in an old paper combined — her bronze-medal super-G run on Thursday showed she probably could have been fine in the downhill Saturday — but it is easier to get to three golds via math than actual competition.
• There are more disciplines now. Giant slalom didn’t become an event until 1950 in the championships’ first trip to North America in a little town called Aspen. The only way to win three at worlds before that was to win downhill and slalom and wait for someone to add up the times for the combined.
Super-G doesn’t join the schedule until 1987 in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, where the Swiss just slobber-knock everyone with eight out of a possible 10 gold medals, including Pirmin Zurbriggen and Maria Walliser winning the new-fangled discipline for the hosts.
Imagine the legends like Franz Klammer or Gustav Thoeni during the 1960s and 1970s who probably could have added to their worlds medal count with the super-G as an official event. Thoeni won two golds at at the Olympics in 1972 (GS and slalom) and two more at worlds in 1974 (combined and slalom). It’s very likely that a hypothetical super-G would have been No. 3.
And who’s to say that Toni Salier and Jean Claude Killy wouldn’t have added to their triple/quadruple golds with a super-G race? (We wouldn’t have bet against either in 1956, 1958 or 1968.)
And FIS has added the team event and men’s and women’s parallel competitions which will make triple golds easier in the future.
The cream of the cream
If one negates the results from holding worlds annually in the 1930s which gives an advantage to racers like Cranz, and get rid of the paper combined races, only six racers have won three golds at worlds.
The two most common names mentioned in this category are the immortals of ski racing — Salier (1956 in Cortina, Italy, this year’s worlds site) and Killy (1968). Not only did they win three actual races — donwhill, GS and slalom — but they also took the paper combi for a fourth gold.
The only other male to do the triple is Ted Ligety, which is one of the many reasons we wish him well in retirement.
The ladies are Switzerland’s Erika Hess in 1982, the first year of a real combined race at worlds, Croatia’s Janica Kostelic (2005) and Sweden’s Anja Paerson.
Taking nothing away from the super six who have done this, but this list is notable as well for the people not on it. On the American front, Bode Miller (33 World Cup wins), Lindsey Vonn (82) and Mikaela Shiffrin (68) haven’t done it.
Ingemar Stenmark (86 World Cup wins, the record) never did the triple. Nor did Marcel Hirscher (67 wins), Hermann Maier (54) Alberto Tomba (50) and Marc Girardelli (46). Those are the top five male winners in World Cup history. (Salier raced before the World Cup existed and Killy retired just when it was founded.)
It’s that hard to be your best for a week or two every two years.
Three (or more) golds at worlds
1933: Inge Weson-Lantschner, Austria, Innsbruck, Austria, DH, SL, K (a,b,c).
1936: Christl, Cranz, Germany, 1936, Garmisch, Germany, DH, SL, K (a,b,c).
1939: Christl Cranz, Germany 1939, Zakopane, Poland, DH, SL, K. (a,b,c).
1966: Marielle Goitschel, France, Portillo, Chile, DH, GS, K (c).
1980: Hanni Wenzel, West Germany, Lake Placid, New York, SL, GS, K (b,c).
1982: Erika Hess, Switzerland, Schldaming, Austria, SL, GS, K.
2005: Janica Kostelic, Croatia, Bormio, Italy, SL, DH, K.
2007: Anja Paerson, Sweden, 2007, Sweden, DH, SG, K.
1937: Emile Allais, France, Chamonix, France, DH, SL, K (a,c).
1954: Stein Eriksen, Norway, Are, Sweden, SL, GS, K. (c)
1956: (four golds) Toni Salier, Austria, 1956, Cortina, Italy, DH, GS, SL, K (b,c)
1958: Toni Salier, Austria, Bad Gastein, Austria, DH, SL, K.
1968: (four golds) Jean-Claude Killy, France, Grenoble, France, DH, GS, SL, K (b,c).
2013: Ted Ligety, USA, Schladming, Austria, 2013, SG, GS, K.
a – Worlds held annually in the 1930s.
b – The Winter Olympics in 1932, 1936 and after World War II through 1980 in Lake Placid, New York, doubled as worlds.
c – The combined at worlds was a paper race until 1982, meaning that organizers just added together the downhill and slalom times already contested and then awarded medals.