Amid historic season, Shiffrin hardly thinks of herself as ‘face of ski racing’

Mikaela Shiffrin
AP
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ARE, Sweden — Mikaela Shiffrin may someday be the most successful Alpine skier in history. But until then, she has been shooting admiring glances at another young female athlete excelling at her chosen sport.

And that athletes, too, is emerging from the shadow of an all-time great.

“Somebody I’ve been watching lately, and I’m really excited for, is Naomi Osaka,” Shiffrin said. “I think that she at least seems like a really nice, down-to-earth girl, trying to do her job and coming up the ranks in a sport that has Serena Williams, the face of tennis.

“Watching Osaka and seeing how she handles herself competing against one of her biggest idols has been pretty cool for me to see.”

While Osaka, the winner of the last two Grand Slam tennis tournaments and — at only 21 — the new No. 1 player in the world, is just starting on the long road to emulating Williams, Shiffrin is already close to eclipsing Lindsey Vonn’s record-breaking exploits.

Watch her ski the giant slalom, Thursday at 8 am on NBCSN and the slalom, Saturday at 5 am on NBCSN.

Fifty-six World Cup victories. Two Olympic gold medals. Four world championship golds, with possibly two more coming in Are, Sweden, this week. Shiffrin is on course to obliterate perhaps every skiing record in the book.

At 23, and with Vonn newly retired, Shiffrin is the face of skiing — whether she likes it or not.

“In my own head, I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, the face of ski racing,’” she said, laughing.

In Vonn’s farewell news conference after concluding her show-stopping career with a bronze in the downhill on Sunday, she included Shiffrin when listing the ski racers she believes need to step up and promote the sport in the coming years.

“It’s not just about success,” Vonn said. “It’s about doing everything you can to promote (skiing). That’s a part of your job as an athlete.”

Shiffrin is belatedly coming around to that train of thought, even though she says being a poster girl doesn’t come naturally to her.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the most self-confident person out there but I feel comfortable in my own skin and I certainly feel comfortable on my skis,” said the American, who described herself as “naturally a fairly introverted personality.”

“I would like to believe that just being a really kind person and a good athlete and having success is enough to promote the sport, but it’s not really. There needs to be some drama, some excitement, some really big personalities. For me, maybe I’m growing into that.”

This enhanced self-belief perhaps explains why Shiffrin felt emboldened to race only three events at the world championships, despite external pressure to go for gold in every discipline. She has already won the super-G and has strong gold-medal chances in the giant slalom and slalom on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Her decision to skip last week’s Alpine combined, in which she would have been the favorite, surprised Vonn and Bode Miller. Indeed, Vonn said she didn’t understand it, saying Shiffrin had “100 percent the capability” of getting a medal in all five disciplines.

Back in Are after spending some days training across the border in Norway, Shiffrin expanded on a long and heartfelt Instagram post she posted in response to Vonn and Miller’s comments.

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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.

A post shared by Mikaela Shiffrin ⛷💨 (@mikaelashiffrin) on

“I wasn’t disappointed. Actually I was really flattered,” she said. “I was incredibly honored that two of the greatest athletes in our sport said that they thought I could win in all events.

“The reason I made this post was because they both also said they thought essentially that I was wrong in making my decision and I have reasons that maybe they didn’t consider in making my decision.”

Shiffrin said she has “paid too much attention to all the expectations of other people” in recent years.

“This year, it’s been one of my goals to see that, to hear it, to understand it, and to let it go,” she said.

It’s an approach that was backed by Scandinavian ski greats Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Anja Paerson.

Aamodt, who won Olympic or worlds medals in all five disciplines during his career, called her decision “smart,” while Paerson, who won five medals — including three golds — on home snow at the 2007 worlds in Are, said: “I love that she’s taking her own way.”

The president of U.S. Ski and Snowboard sees no issue with Shiffrin picking and choosing her events, either.

“I think it’s great,” Tiger Shaw told The Associated Press, “that she’s smart enough to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to focus on the ones I want to win. And yes I can go in every event and I could probably win the downhill, too. But I’m going to race the ones I want to race. I’m me and everybody else can think whatever they think.’”

Certainly, Shiffrin has no regrets this week as she goes for her fifth and sixth world titles.

“I’m a little bit fresher going into these races,” she said. “It almost feels like a second start to the world championships.”

Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
Getty
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“I think I was just not ready to deliver at that day,” Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen, said on NBC. “I was really so confident, I think I sort of overthought everything and tried to get ahead of myself. But I think it’s all right.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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