Mikaela Shiffrin closes in on Lindsey Vonn’s World Cup record


The journey from the mountain in Levi, Finland — where Mikaela Shiffrin opened her Alpine World Cup season by winning the first two races, adding trophies to her limitless pile — consisted of a race back to the hotel with 45 minutes to pack, a drive to nearby Kittila for a trip to Helsinki to stay At an airport hotel to sleep before 4 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. flight to Frankfurt, Germany, to catch another plane to Boston, where she can collect her bags, rent a car and drive three hours to Killington, Vt. , arriving around 8 p.m

Of course there is fatigue. There is much more than this.

“After a race, for me, I’m so wired, I can’t even sleep,” she said. “I just totally love,”Aaaaaah! Especially after the way this season has started, it’s been so amazing, I just couldn’t stop my mind.”

Which supposedly Shiffrin’s brain has an off switch at all. There is little evidence of this. These two slalom victories were Finland’s 75th and 76th World Cup wins in a career that has few peers. Lindsey Vonn holds the women’s record with 82, and Ingmar Stenmark holds the human record with 86. That’s the club. It is small.

When you start to think about Killington’s slalom, contested five times, Shiffrin winning all of them, and you calculate that she’s had three single seasons in which she’s won more than 12 races—well, the dream stuff starts to look real.

“The way I used to think was if I got to a certain point in my career with enough wins, I would finally start to feel confident that I’m a winner and I deserve to be there and success has come, I’m there,” Shiffrin said this week in a phone conversation. From Killington. “I’m finally there. I’m at the destination.”

“And I realize now that he would never feel that way. And every morning when I wake up, the first thing I will think is: What do I have to do today to earn that again?”

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She has won all of her sporting awards: Olympic gold medals (two), World Championship gold medals (six), World Cup titles (four), sprints in every discipline. Driving, Daily Motivation: Earn It Back.

And she continued, “It’s good.” “It’s not a bad feeling. In some ways, I think it’s almost a way of living healthier, not focusing on things that have gone right in the past, just trying to keep working on your dreams — wherever they take you.”

Killington — slalom on Saturday, slalom on Sunday — is the only American stop on the Women’s World Cup schedule. Shiffrin loves those events, just two hours away from where she got her formative training, at Vermont’s Beark Mountain Academy. “It’s a gift, such a nice atmosphere, such a nice audience,” she said.

But it’s also very much a business trip. She’s there to work, and when some move on the women’s circuit to sprints in Lake Louise, Canada, the following week, she’ll be back in Europe to focus on training for the technical events, giant slalom and slalom, where she’s recorded 63 of her 76 World Cup victories.

Speaking with Shiffrin over the years, starting at age 17 and bursting onto the international scene ahead of her first Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, I often wondered if it was her pre-race jitters or her relentless pursuit of perfection — she is a training and video junkie — Overwhelmed by the joy you derive from winning. Now that I’m 27 and closer to the end of her career than the beginning, I realize I’ve been thinking about it backwards.

Take some training sessions in Levi’s in the weeks leading up to the races there. Instead of returning to Copper Mountain in Colorado, where many of the American racers were training for speed, the American Technical Racers stayed in Europe and trained in Finland – along with some of the best Europeans. There, her American teammate Paula Moltzan was going strong after a scorching run.

“I would say, ‘What should I do to try to catch up with her?'” Shiffrin said. “And then I’ll probably hit my neck and my neck or I’ll go a little faster—and then you’ll get through a faster time.” Her voice catches with emotion here. “Those are the days that are now.” very fun. It’s amazing to have you in a training environment like this.”

We see the results, we count the victories, we discover what is possible and what will be legendary. For Shiffrin, there is more joy in what we don’t see.

“It’s like ski racing for training, and how fun it is to train when I’m skiing really well, versus racing,” Shiffrin said. “The racing part is the kind of thing that keeps me wondering if I even wanted to do it, and the training is the kind of thing that keeps me coming back.”

After the sudden and tragic death of her father, Jeff, in early 2020 and then the pandemic and all the havoc it wreaked, a return wasn’t always a guarantee. The Beijing Olympics, in which she not only did not medal, but also did not finish the slalom, giant slalom, or alpine combined, could have pushed her over the brink. Retirement – even at 27, with historical markers ahead – is always somewhere at the front of the stove, simmering.

“I’m glad I stuck with it up to this point, but it’s definitely still something that’s always crossed my mind,” Shiffrin said. “When will the moment come when I decide the work is no longer worth the reward? And I don’t feel like it yet mostly because the work — I really enjoy doing the work.”

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In her case, the work yields nearly constant results. The results push the limits only reached by the legends of the sport. But while Von and Stenmark’s labels certainly fall into her field of vision, it doesn’t make them Schiffrin’s main motivator.

“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a factor at all, and I never thought about it,” Shiffrin said. “But it’s not the driving force.

“Lindsey, you’ve earned the respect of the whole ski racing world. Throughout her career, a lot of what she’s done has been very groundbreaking. So whatever she does, it doesn’t change anything that happened in her career. I would be very proud to hold that record. But that’s not the thing that makes me What kind of fulfillment I feel when I look back on my career.”

She can look back on her career and realize that she has already accomplished more than she could have hoped. The rest of us can look ahead and notice the landmarks on the horizon. The crowd in Killington would have enjoyed another victory for Shiffrin. The joy for Shiffrin will be the improvement in the previous week’s practice runs. Both can be located in the same place. They all lead to a place that – with achievements approaching an unprecedented level – makes the brain hard to stop.

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