Mikaela Shiffrin is a skier on a mission. At her third Winter Olympics, the US star is targeting five events in what she calls a “very aggressive game plan” - it could make her a legend.
The 26-year-old is arguably the biggest name heading to Beijing, especially now that ice hockey players from the NHL will not be involved in China. By the end of the Games, she could be the most successful female alpine skier in Olympic history - and possibly equal the all-time record across men’s and women’s events.
She will have to go some to do it - but this is a very special athlete. Shiffrin is attempting to compete in all five individual events: giant slalom, slalom, downhill, super-G and combined. If the three-time medallist gets on the podium in all of them, she will equal the eight won by Kjetil Andre Aamodt. She needs three to match the women’s record of six medals claimed by Janica Kostelic and Anja Parson.
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It has been a tough few years for the American since winning giant slalom gold and combined silver at Pyeongchang 2018, after her father Jeff tragically died from a head injury he sustained in an accident in 2020. At one point, she wondered whether carrying on with her skiing career was really worth it.
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"There was a really long time that I didn’t really feel like it was worth it to care about anything,” she told NBC’s Today programme in the US.
“It seemed like I’m not going to go ski race again because the most fundamental thing of an athlete is that you have to care about your sport and you have to care about doing well at your sport, and I just didn’t.
"I just thought I don’t care about actually really anything in life. It’s been a long process to get that motivation and actually the feeling of caring back. A lot more good days than bad now, but it’s still difficult."
Shiffrin is setting the sport alight again but it has not been easy this year. Like many athletes, she has missed events due to Covid-19, but the real question about whether she can challenge in all five events in Beijing is how her body holds up, after struggling with a back injury near the end of last year.
At the start of November, Shiffrin spoke about her “frustrating” issue. “I take a day, and then I'm like, 'All right, maybe it's good enough; I can go out and ski.′ And then I go out and ski and I take a few turns, and I'm like, 'Ow. It's really painful.”
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The good news for Shiffrin is that she appears to have got that out of her system, having recorded two podium finishes in back-to-back giant slalom World Cup events in Courchevel just before Christmas, including victory in the first of them.
In her first event since returning from Covid - and her opening race of Olympic year - she then finished second in the slalom event in Zagreb to retain her overall lead. Not bad for a skier who had been in isolation for a week and was only allowed to come out of it one day before the race.
Shiffrin is on the verge of greatness heading into Beijing and she is already closing in on rival Lindsey Vonn’s record of 82 World Cup race wins, which she will surely achieve sooner rather than later as she sits just 10 behind her fellow American.
This season alone, she has won three World Cups - the giant slalom in Soelden and Courchevel and the slalom in Killington and been on the podium a further six times.
With just under a month to go until the Winter Olympics begin, Shiffrin looks in good shape to challenge in all events. Having already tested positive for coronavirus, she would be unfortunate if that were to derail her again - now it is just about keeping herself healthy. If she does, it is possible we are about to see something very special.
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