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

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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.

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“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.”

Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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MORE: Shani Davis retires, takes new role in speed skating

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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MORE: World Single Distances Championships broadcast schedule