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

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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.”

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

AP
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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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