Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and what’s next?
Can Mikaela pass Vonn, Stenmark? Does she care?
Here is the dumbest tidbit that’s been making the rounds in sports journalism.
Until Tuesday, Mikaela Shiffrin hadn’t won a World Cup slalom IN MORE THAN A YEAR.
To review, Shiffrin won the last slalom in calendar 2019 in Lienz, Austria, on Dec. 29, finished second in Zagreb, Croatia, on Jan. 4, 2020 and third in Flachau , Austria (Jan. 14, 2020), and then her Pop passed away a few weeks later and, well, she didn’t race. You might have also heard there was a global pandemic happening.
That’s bang-your-head-on-the-desk dumb. Context, people. It’s important.
And that’s what makes Shiffrin (68) passing Marcel Hirscher (67) with her win on Tuesday night in Flachau for third all-time on the World Cup victories list, so significant.
As Eagle County race fans, we view Hirscher primarily as Ted Ligety’s foil as ’Shred’ dominated giant slaloms from 2010-2015 at Birds of Prey, including 2015 worlds.
Outside of the red, white and blue perspective, Hirscher is a Alpine god with an unprecedented eight World Cup titles in a row, seven worlds golds, two golds at the Olympics … at last in 2018, six slalom globes in seven years, six GS titles in eight years and a partridge in a pear tree.
As much as we all want to do the Shiffrin-Lindsey Vonn comparison, Shiffrin-Hirscher is really apt. They are the best two tech racers in ski-racing history not named Ingemar Stenmark. I’ll stipulate that Shiffrin and Hirscher race/raced against deeper competition, but you have to give it up for the Swede when it comes to longevity with 86 World Cups total — 46 in in GS and 40 in slalom.
But let’s be honest. The question you really want answered is “Can Mikaela reach Vonn’s record of 82 wins or Stenmark at 86?”
Does she care about Vonn or Stenmark?
In a nutshell, no.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking about records today,” Shiffrin told ORF via Peacock after Tuesday’s race. “I wanted to ski well. This slope has shaken me up the last couple of years. … It was really fun tonight.”
She says something akin to that every time a reporter asks her about all the record she’s been breaking, be it 17 World Cup wins in a season, passing Austria’s Marlies Schlld for most slalom wins by a woman or winning four consecutive slalom golds at worlds.
This is hard for us to comprehend having seen Vonn doggedly pursue Stenmark’s record until both of her knees probably had no ligaments or cartilage left. Stenmark’s 86 was Vonn’s raison d’etre. Shiffrin isn’t doing that.
In fact, Tuesday she said, “It feels a little bit like a new beginning. It’s a little strange because when I look at my whole career realistically most of my wins and my best races are behind me. It’s already happened. At 25, it’s weird to think the bulk of the best racing of my career is already over. That’s strange to think about. I know it sounds negative.”
In the wake of her father’s passing, this is not the first time she’s hinted at the end of her career. There was a lot of this talk in the offseason.
Does Shiffrin call it a career after this season? No. We’re closing in on the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Shiffrin is definitely sticking around for the 2021-22 season, but after that?
My Magic-8 Ball says, “Ask again later.”
Yes, maybe Shiffrin has a piece of paper locked in a safe, hidden under her bed saying, “I, Mikaela Shiffrin want to be the greatest of all time,” but, again, that’s just not how she rolls.
When asked on Tuesday about her favorite wins of all time, Shiffrin couldn’t name any. This is why Shiffrin-Vonn comparisons don’t work. They are vastly different people.
Put Vonn in that news conference and she names about 10 victories that include the 2010 Olympics, worlds at Val d’Isere, France, in 2009, life at Lake Lindsey, er, Lake Louise, Alberta, (18 career wins there) and good times in both Cortina, Italy (12 victories), and Garmisch, Germany (nine times).
Come to think of it, I’m kind of surprised Vonn isn’t coming out of retirement for worlds at Cortina next month. (I’m joking … sort of? I really didn’t think Vonn actually retired in February 2019 until she didn’t show up at Lake Louise that December.)
I judge neither as whatever they do/did clearly works/worked for them.
Can she get to Nos. 82 and/or 86?
Now we reference the Voldemort portion of the subject. Vonn had 59 victories going into the 2013 worlds in Schladming, Austria. She was 28 and unstoppable when it came to breaking Stenmark’s record.
After a crash shredded her right knee in Schladming, Lindsey Vonn won 23 more times, again one of the greatest accomplishments of her career to have another Hall of Fame run after a devastating injury.
And so we sat at our desks before the 2018-19 season, thinking that said campaign would be known as the year Vonn passed Stenmark. We were mapping the season.
“She’ll win one event, and/or probably two at Lake Louise, one at Cortina (at least) and one Garmisch (minimum, right?) So, with those four victories Lindsey’s at 86 and she just needs to win one to break the record. She’s going to win somewhere else. It’s in the bag.”
Vonn injured her left knee in training at Copper during the preseason, and, for all intents and purposes, that was that for Stenmark’s record.
Both Vonn and Shiffrin have been lucky with health. (Please note that we do not say the I-word, so as not to invoke the wrath of the Alpine gods.) Vonn made it 12-plus years as a speed racer before Schladming. Despite the gruesome injury, 12 years is darn good for a person hurtling down a mountain speedily without calamity.
Shiffrin has done an ACL during the 2015-16, but — knock on wood — so far so good.
Should Shiffrin pas Nos. 82 and 86? Yes. Do we know she will? We really thought Vonn was going to do it in 2018-19, the season which turned into a Shiffrin-fest with 17 World Cup wins and 19 victories overall.
We don’t know squat.
So congratulations to Mikaela for passing Hirscher and, come to think of it, Shiffrin has gone nearly TWO DAYS without winning a slalom. Yeah, she’s losing it.
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