Posing the question: What will come next for Mikaela?
She was 15, and wearing bib No. 43 on Nov. 16, 2010, at Copper Mountain for her first FIS race, a giant slalom.
Mikaela Shiffrin finished 18th, 3.8 seconds behind the winner, Kiley Staples. Current U.S. Ski Team luminaries Stacey Cook (second), Leanne Smith (third), Laurenne Ross (eighth), Julia Ford (ninth) and Alice McKennis (14th) all finished ahead of the girl named Shiffrin. Two of the Ghent sisters of Edwards, Abby in fifth and Erika (16th), also topped Mikaela, a fun bit of trivia for the locals, who can look back and say, “Yeah, I beat that Shiffrin girl.”
Shiffrin’s debut was not exactly a Tiger Woods, “Hello, world,” moment, yet, at the same time, her rise has been meteoric.
While many toil on the FIS and NorAm circuits for years in the hope of getting the call to the national team, Shiffrin won in her sixth NorAm start, just 28 days after her Copper debut, in a super-combined in Panorama, British Columbia.
After 13 Nor-Am starts, which included four wins and five other top-10 finishes, she got her first start in World Cup giant slalom in Spindleruv Mlyn in the then-Czech Republic on March 11, 2011.
So much in so little time
Six years and change is a long time, particularly for an athlete, yet Shiffrin has done so much that she’s made it seem like a blink of an eye.
Her resume includes:
• 30 World Cup wins.
• FIS Alpine World Ski Championships slalom gold medals in 2013, 2015 and 2017, not to mention a silver in GS in this year’s worlds.
• Olympic slalom gold in 2014 in Russia. (Olympic and Worlds medals don’t count toward her 30 World Cup wins, by the way.)
• World Cup titles in slalom in 2013, 2014, 2015 and another on the way, possibly as early as today in Squaw Valley, California.
• And, yes, she’s on the verge of winning the overall World Cup championship at the ripe old age of 22 — her birthday is on Monday, ironically a training day for the World Cup Finals in Aspen.
The thing to remember is that Shiffrin, were she to stop now, were she not even to bother with today’s slalom or the World Cup Finals in Aspen the next, would already have had a historic career by all measures.
Some tidbits from her career to be frozen in time now:
• With Friday’s win, Shiffrin moved into a tie for 10th all-time on women’s World Cup win chart with 30 with Janica Kostelic, of Croatia. Shiffrin is already ahead of legends like Maria Hoefl-Riesch (27), Tina Maze (26) and Michaela Dorfmeister (25).
• She is third all-time in slalom wins (24) among women; she’s fifth among all comers in slalom wins — only Ingemar Stenmark (40), Alberto Tomba (35), Marlies Schild (35) and Vreni Schneider (34) have more. That’s good company.
• Shiffrin is already third on the American list of all-time World Cup wins, behind only Lindsey Vonn (77) and Bode Miller (33). Yes, she’s already passed Phill Mahre (27) and Ted Ligety (25).
• According to the Denver Post’s John Meyer, Shiffrin has also passed Stenmark’s mark of World Cup wins before turning 22 — he had won 27 of his all-time mark of 86 before that birthday.
So what now?
Well, Shiffrin will not become the youngest person to win a World Cup overall. Stenmark was 19 in 1976 when he won the first of his three overalls. Shiffrin will also not become the youngest American to win the overall either. (Boy, her career seems to be going downhill fast.)
Shiffrin will likely clinch the overall title after her 22nd birthday on Monday, Tamara McKinney’s 1983 title came when she was roughly 21 years, 5 months old. Shiffrin will beat Americans Mahre (World Cup championship in 1981, aged 23), Vonn (2008, 24) and Miller (2005, 28).
While I find the inevitable comparisons between Shiffrin and Vonn to be odious — they generally don’t apply as Mikaela is from a tech background and Lindsey from speed and that can be like comparing apples and oranges — the one thing they may share is desire.
What does she want?
Vonn has answered that question in her career with her quest to surpass Stenmark in all-time World Cup wins. Vonn doubtless would also like to cap her career with another run at the Olympics in South Korea next year.
As for Shiffrin’s desires, here’s a possible to-do list:
• If she captures the slalom globe today or next week, which is very likely, then she will have four, and Schneider holds the women’s record with six.
• France’s Tessa Worley leads Shiffrin in GS points, 640-580, with one final giant slalom next week in Aspen. Worley will likely take the title. But GS globes are clearly a goal as Shiffrin’s career has progressed. She’s gone from 49th in 2012 to second-place in 2017 in GS.
• Wither speed? The 2016-17 season saw Shiffrin branch into some speed events. She won a combined last month in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, last month, in addition to five starts between downhill and super-G. More speed events seem likely in the future and that increases her odds of winning more overall crowns.
• World Cup wins and titles are part of the legacy of any ski racers, but so are medals — the Olympics and World Championships. With her gold at Worlds in slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last month, Shiffrin became first female to three-peat since Germany’s Christl Cranz did so in both the combined and the slalom from 1937-39. (A historical note: Worlds were held annually during the 1930s, and the GS did not exist as an event.)
Can she four-peat in the slalom in Are, Sweden, in 2019? Is she looking at competing in more than GS and slalom come 2019 and in 2021 (Cortina, Italy)?
Were the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to start today, Shiffrin would be defending her slalom gold and among the favorites in GS. Does she take a stab at multiple events, including the combined? Beijing 2022 is also on the horizon.
Health and desire are the keys for all of the above, but if the last six years or so have been any indication, Shiffrin may just be beginning the ride.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.
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