In the last three months, many people contacted Mikaela Shiffrin and her family to share stories about her late father, Jeff. Shiffrin learned more about her dad, and for that, she’s thankful.
Plenty of the messages came from Jeff’s patients over the years. He was an anesthesiologist.
“He was there for the moments when people go in for surgery when they’re the most scared,” Shiffrin told Rebecca Lowe on NBCSN’s Lunch Talk Live on Tuesday. “He was the person who made them feel comfortable. So many people got in touch with us to say, ‘I don’t know your dad, but he was my anesthesiologist. He changed his schedule around because he recognized my name through some strange kind of connection from way back when, family connection, or I don’t know. He saw my name on the surgery list, and he changed his schedule around just so he could come see me because he knew I was alone and didn’t have family and he wanted to make me more comfortable.’
“Basically thanking him through us, I guess,” she continued. “Obviously, he’s so important to us and to my family, but when you see the broader impact, that’s really special. That’s been a really, really special thing. At the same time, you wish you could have known those things when he was here.”
Some of Shiffrin’s favorite moments with her dad came at the Olympics in 2014 and 2018. Not necessarily seeing him at her races, but away from the competition and the cameras.
“The quiet moments,” she said. “When I got to kind of break way from the Olympics, all the Olympic hype and just watch a TV show with my parents or a movie or make some pasta or something. The normal-life moments that you have, but you have it during the Olympics.”
Shiffrin said in early March that the stories she’s heard about her dad became, in many ways, her family’s lifeline.
“I’d like to say that this will be something that I can use as strength,” in future races, she said Tuesday, “but I think there’s going to be moments where everything is a little bit harder because of it, too.”
Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.
Here’s what we learned in various sports:
ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company
The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.
While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.
In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)
Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.
CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite
Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.
Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.
Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.
NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control
Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six — Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth).
In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.
A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.
U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships — Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.
In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.
FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying
U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain.
Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.
In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.
French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.
SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup
Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.
U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.
Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.
BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee
Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.
Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.
Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.
A few hours after Mikaela Shiffrin announced plans to return to the Alpine skiing World Cup for its final weekend, international organizers canceled the races, giving Italy’s Federica Brignone the season title that Shiffrin had held for three years.
Shiffrin had confirmed early Wednesday morning that she would return for the final weekend, saying the venue of Åre, Sweden, was a place where she and her father, whose sudden death prompted Shiffrin to leave the World Cup circuit, had good memories together.
Later in the day, the international ski federation (FIS) announced plans to hold the races without spectators, largely rendering moot Shiffrin’s statement that she would limit interactions with fans and media to maintain her privacy and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Shortly thereafter, FIS announced that the races wouldn’t be held at all.
“We are so sorry that we have to cancel the competitions that we have prepared for for so long,” said World Cup manager Fredrik Broman. “The current situation give us no other option than to cancel.”
Brignone held the World Cup lead by 153 points. With each race offering 100 points to the winner and three races on the weekend schedule, Shiffrin still had a slim chance of winning the season title for a fourth straight year. Instead, Shiffrin will finish second despite not racing since Jan. 26.
Shiffrin had a much better chance of taking the slalom season title for the fourth straight season and the seventh time in eight years, trailing Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova by just 20 points with two races scheduled for the weekend.
The World Cup Finals, scheduled for next week in Italy, had already been canceled due to coronavirus concerns in Italy.
The 2019-20 season was never likely to be a repeat of Shiffrin’s previous year, when she set a World Cup record with 17 wins in 26 races and won the overall season title by 849 points. She also won the slalom title by a wide margin and took the crystal globes in giant slalom and super-G. In the world championships, she won the slalom and super-G, along with a third-place finish in the giant slalom.
This season, she was especially vulnerable in giant slalom, winning just once in five races. She took a short break to reset, then returned to win two races in her first weekend back. In January, she had two wins and five podium finishes in eight races, leaving herself poised to win the overall title again.
Brignone’s previous best in the World Cup season standings was fifth in 2016-17, the same year she finished fourth in the downhill standings for the second straight year. She won the Alpine combined season title last season and defended it this year with two wins. With five wins in all disciplines this season, she took her career win total to 15.
She said in late February that she hoped her friend would return to action shortly, even if it threatened her chances to win the overall title.
Vlhova, second in the overall standings last season, was the only skier in striking distance of Brignone and Shiffrin this year. Her slalom season title is her first in any discipline.