Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin responds to criticism by Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller
Mikaela and Lindsey go to it on Instagram
A minor spat erupted between Vail’s megastars of World Cup skiing, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, on Saturday, as the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden, neared the end of its first week.
On Friday, The Associated Press reported that Vonn and Bode Miller, the two-time men’s World Cup champion with 33 World Cup wins who is working the world championships for television, both questioned Shiffrin’s decision to skip Friday’s Alpine super-combined and Sunday’s downhill.
“She could have won everything,” Vonn said of Shiffrin to the AP. “I’m a racer and I want to race in every single race that I possibly can,” Vonn added. “I respect her decision. It’s obviously her decision. But she has the potential and 100 percent the capability of getting a medal in all five disciplines. So I don’t personally understand it. … Hopefully, I’m sure, she will get two golds in GS and slalom.”
On Saturday, Shiffrin responded on Instagram.
In part, Shiffrin wrote, “My goal has never been to break records for most (World Cup) wins, points or most medals at world champs. My goal is to be a true contender every time I step into the start.”
View this post on Instagram
I have to say, I’m flattered by some recent comments by Bode and Lindsey saying that they think I would have been a contender in 5 events this World Champs. However, as the one who has been trying to race in every discipline this season, and who has won in 5 disciplines this season alone, I can tell you that not a single one of those wins was “easy”. There is no such thing as an easy win. From the outside, people see the records and stats. As I have said, those numbers dehumanize the sport and what every athlete is trying to achieve. What I see is an enormous mixture of work, training, joy, heartache, motivation, laughs, stress, sleepless nights, triumph, pain, doubt, certainty, more doubt, more work, more training, surprises, delayed flights, canceled flights, lost luggage, long drives through the night, expense, more work, adventure, and some races mixed in there. I don’t have the Slalom and GS season titles in the bag, and I don’t have the Slalom or GS World Champs medals in the bag either. The girls are competitive and it’s a fight, every single race. Everyone has their sights set on gold, so to think that I could come in and waltz away with 4 or 5 medals would be a wild miscalculation and honestly disrespectful to the talent and ability of the other athletes, and how much work they have also put into their skiing. At 23, I’m still understanding my full potential as well as my limitations. But I have definitely learned not to let hubris dictate my expectations and goals. My goal has never been to break records for most WC wins, points or most medals at World Champs. My goal is to be a true contender every time I step into the start, and to have the kind of longevity in my career that will allow me to look back when all is said and done and say that – for a vast majority of the duration of my career – I was able to compete and fight for that top step rather than being sidelined by getting burnt out or injured from pushing beyond my capacity. It is clear to me that many believe I am approaching my career in a way that nobody has before, and people don’t really understand it. But you know what?! That is completely fine by me, because I am ME, and no one else.
Vonn responded in the Instagram comments section of Shiffrin’s post, in part, saying, “What we said was a compliment, that you are capable of winning medals in all events. No one said it’s easy, Bode and I both know that as winners in all five disciplines. So stick with your decision and go be you.”
Just as a note, Shiffrin also has won in all five World Cup disciplines — downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super-combined— with the super-G victory being the final piece on Dec. 2, 2018, in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Shiffrin and scheduling
As Shiffrin has expanded her repertoire from her technical base to speed, she’s surprised a lot of the world with her progress with four wins in downhill and super-G. What’s more, she’s won all three World Cup super-Gs in which she’s entered in 2018-19 and won the world title in the discipline on Tuesday in Are.
Despite the quick success, Shiffrin has had some bumps along the road. Last season, she said she overdid her competition schedule in the buildup to and during the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She added a full weekend of speed events in Cortina, Italy, on January 2018, finishing third and seventh in two downhills and DNF’ing in super-G.
When she returned to tech events, she DNF’d during the Kronplatz, Italy, GS and the Lenzerheide, Switzerland, slalom, right before the Olympics. At the Olympics, Shiffrin was planning to compete in all five events, a plan that was scotched by weather delays.
What’s more, the weather forced the GS and slalom into back-to-back days. Shiffrin won the gold in the giant slalom but finished fourth in the slalom, where she was the defending Olympic champion. (She also earned silver in the super-combined.)
After the season, Shiffrin and her camp made the decision to pare back the schedule a little bit. In particular, she said at the season opener in Soelden, Austria, last October, “All disciplines, but not every single race — the plan is every slalom and GS like last year and some key speed races which I feel I can perform well in.”
Since the 2018 Olympics, she has entered 23 World Cup races and one worlds race. In those 24 starts, she’s won 16 times, had seven top-five finishes and that 24th result, her “worst,” was a ninth-place finish in one of the Lake Louise downhills back in December.
That run of results seems to justify Shiffrin’s decision outlined in her Instagram post.
Vonn and Shiffrin
While comparisons between Vonn and Shiffrin are natural, given their ties to Vail and their prodigious career World Cup win totals — Vonn has 82; Shiffrin 56 — they are different athletes and people. Given that Shiffrin comes from a tech background, the more apt comparison for her in American skiing history is Miller, not Vonn, who started as a speedster.
Yes, locals remember Miller for his go-for-broke, sometimes-harrowing, yet-ultimately thrilling rides down Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek in downhill, but Miller started from a tech background. Miller’s first eight World Cup wins were either in GS or slalom. His first two world championships gold medals were in GS and combined in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003. (Downhill and super-G world titles come in Bormio, Italy, in 2005.)
Miller, who started his World Cup career in 1997, finally got his first career World Cup speed wins in Lake Louise in 2004 with both the downhill and super-G. By comparison to Miller, Shiffrin is transitioning a little bit faster — she started on the World Cup on March 11, 2011, and captured her first downhill at Lake Louise on Dec. 2, 2017. If you’re wondering, Vonn’s first World Cup start was Nov. 18, 2000, and her breakthrough in tech was in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 15, 2008, with a slalom win, roughly eight years.
However one is transitioning, from speed to tech or vice versa, it takes a while, and everyone’s comfort levels are different.
With a combined 136 World Cup wins, both Vonn and Shiffrin have unquenchable competitive fires. However, they have different personalities. Vonn speaks her mind more often and wears her emotions on her sleeve, and ski fans love her for that. Shiffrin is a little quieter and certainly seems less emotional, particularly at the finish of a race, when she doesn’t react immediately, instead committing the run to memory, and she has legions of admirers as well.
And these differences probably led to this to-do.
In the greater scheme of things, this too shall pass as ski-racing fans watch both go for history in the next week. Vonn competes in her final race on Sunday, the downhill, while Shiffrin runs in the GS on Thursday and the slalom on Saturday.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.