Getty Images

How Olympic gold changed (or didn’t change) Mikaela Shiffrin

Leave a comment

Lindsey Vonn displays her two Olympic medals in a massive trophy case. Ted Ligety keeps his two Olympic gold medals at his parents’ house. Andrew Weibrecht displays his two Olympic medals in the lobby of an inn owned by his parents.

Mikaela Shiffrin?

She stuffed her 2014 Olympic slalom gold medal in the back of a sock drawer.

“I don’t think about it every day,” Shiffrin said. “I rarely think about it unless someone brings it up.”

Shiffrin’s life forever changed in Sochi on that February evening, when at 18, she became the youngest-ever Olympic slalom champion. But she refused to let success change her.

“[It] doesn’t feel like it’s changed me at all,” Shiffrin said. “I still think the same things are exciting.”

Going to a movie theatre and getting popcorn gives her “real excitement.”

But how about the 2014 Olympics?

“I still don’t know how I feel about Sochi,” Shiffrin admitted.

NBCOlympics.com: Everything to know about Shiffrin

Shiffrin did not have a lot of time to immediately reflect after her Sochi triumph.

She was still obsessed with how she could have improved her final run when she was greeted on the snow by her mother, Eileen. Before Eileen could even finish wrapping her arms around her daughter, Shiffrin breathlessly asked, “Did I lose time in the middle there?”

Shiffrin was then quickly escorted to the media mixed zone to do round after round of interviews.

When asked how she felt, Shiffrin did not know how to respond, having not yet had a moment to process her emotions. When asked about the gold medal, her canned answer became, “it’s heavy.”

Less than three days later, she was in New York for even more television appearances. She teamed with actress Reese Witherspoon to play Catchphrase against host Jimmy Fallon and singer Usher on “The Tonight Show.” She was also a guest on “TODAY” alongside Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety.

When “TODAY” host Matt Lauer asked whether her gold-medal moment had sunk in yet, Shiffrin responded, “It’s a total blur. I’ve been doing this type of thing for five days straight. It feels like the race never even happened.”

Even after fulfilling her media obligations, Shiffrin did not have much time to celebrate. She returned to World Cup racing just 13 days after winning the Olympic slalom.

The offseason proved hectic as well, with appearances at red-carpet events including the ESPYS. She does not pretend to be glamorous, although she will dress the part if required.

“I think part of the fun about walking around in ski boots is making it look as awkward as possible,” Shiffrin said. “I really think that’s enjoyable, I don’t know why.”

Shiffrin’s star has continued to grow in the last quadrennial.

NBCOlympics.com: More on Alpine skiing

On the slopes, she won the 2017 World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

Off the slopes, Britain’s SportsPro Magazine named Shiffrin the ninth-most marketable athlete of 2017, well ahead of fellow U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn (No. 50).

But Shiffrin believes the external pressure started to have a negative impact on her performance during the 2016-17 season. She even threw up prior to several races for the first time in her career. Unusual, considering she has historically been relaxed enough to nap on the snow just moments before a competition, earning her the nickname “Sir Naps A Lot.”

“I’ve never really been the type of athlete that gets extremely nervous at the start or feels that kind of pressure and expectations from everyone else,” Shiffrin said. “And [during the 2016-17 season] I started to feel that, and it brought on quite a different form of nerves than I’ve ever dealt with.”

Shiffrin’s mom speculated that her daughter’s anxiety was caused by her frantic schedule. Shiffrin traditionally focused on the technical disciplines: slalom and giant slalom. By expanding her portfolio to also include the speed disciplines, Shiffrin made more World Cup starts than ever before, racing at least once in every discipline for the first time. Shiffrin estimates that she had half as much time to train for the technical disciplines as she had in past seasons.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch Alpine skiing streams, highlights

“We ran into a lot of challenges getting Mikaela time training,” Eileen said to NBC OlympicTalk. “She was not prepared for the races she went into, and she knew it. That’s why she was nervous.”

To overcome her anxieties, Shiffrin started consulting a sports psychologist via Skype and text messaging.

“[She] helped to remind me of what mentality has worked for me in the past,” Shiffrin said, “and how to perceive outside pressure as a separate thing from me and my performance.”

Reporters became a source of outside pressure during Shiffrin’s 2016 streak of winning seven straight World Cup slaloms, one short of the record for most consecutive victories in the discipline. They pestered her with questions about the streak, and when it ended, Shiffrin admitted that she felt relieved because she would no longer have to discuss it.

Shiffrin reminds herself that having media members want to help share her story should be more of an honor than a burden.

“I just try to keep telling myself that when I feel like people are talking about me, and I just want them to stop,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin might be reluctant to talk about herself, but knows that she has a story to tell.

“If everyone was in my head, it would be the most epic, inspirational movie ever,” Shiffrin said. “I’m constantly thinking about how my life would fit into a really inspirational Disney movie scene or something.”

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt says one man can bring him out of retirement

Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

T.J. Oshie
Getty Images
Leave a comment

T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

MORE: NHL players vote on world’s best female hockey player

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!