Mikaela Shiffrin’s career is far from over

I first saw Mikaela Shiffrin skiing when she was 14 years old at the Eastern Championships for top junior riders selected from nine states. Shiffrin beat everyone (including my daughter) by 11 seconds in a race that is often decided by tenths of a second, if not percentage.

I wandered over to a group of coaches from the elite snowmobile racing academies I knew and asked, “Who’s Shiffrin?”

“She’s Mozart,” one replied. Other coaches told me I would be writing about her for the next 20 years.

This is just to say that Shiffrin has been hugely popular in the snowmobile racing world since 2010, and that seems to have skewed our assessment of her. She’s 26, but since she made her World Cup debut at 15 and won an Olympic gold medal 8 years ago, she seems older.

That makes it hard to think she’s at daycare, but it’s most likely true. Shiffrin’s stumbles at the Beijing Olympics were incomprehensible – she called them failures. But even after she couldn’t finish the third race on ThursdayIt is important for her to realize that there is still a long way to go at the Olympics.

We’ve only watched part of that adventure. In fact, Shiffrin’s failures fit the history of many great ski racers. There are plenty of precedents that match her seasoned experience to date in Beijing.

As Shiffrin’s childhood idol, Bode Miller, who was no doubt his sport’s king as the 2006 Olympics approached. He was supposed to compete for 5 gold medals. Instead, he barely stood upright, or during, most of his races and won no. Worse still, because he joined the eve of the events, he was mocked globally for not taking his job seriously.

Credit…Doug Mills / The New York Times

Ted Ligety was the defending Alpine Olympic champion combined at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and came out on top in the sport of giant slalom. He hasn’t come close to a medal in the four events he’s in. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal has won three Olympic medals, is the world’s highest-rated skier and many gold medal favorites while competing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He went home without have medals.

Lindsey Vonn had a similar story in 2006. She was heavily hyped, but her best result in the race was Saturday (a bad training crash contributed to). Vonn, who had dominated downhill form for the previous six seasons, then missed the 2014 Olympics because of constant training problems.

But Miller bounced back from a 2006 defeat to win four more Olympic medals, and now has more Alpine Olympic medals than any other American. He is loved and respected. Ligety recovered from 2010 to win Olympic gold four years later and five world championship races. He is also loved and respected. Svindal came back for another gold medal in 2018 and became one of the best speed skiers ever. Vonn became the first American woman to win a downhill Olympic championship and won another Olympic medal in 2018. To date, she is considered the greatest female skier in history based on 82 championships. won the World Cup in his career. That’s the description Shiffrin, a 73-time World Cup winner, will likely claim in due time.

So yes, Shiffrin will probably leave Beijing thinking: What just happened there?

But the answer could be this: It happened to some of the best athletes in her sport. Not everyone recovered, but many persevered and won again. For them, it’s just part of the Olympic journey, maybe even a rite of passage.

Miller won his last Olympic medal at the age of 36; Svindal at the age of 35; Vonn at the age of 33.

Shiffrin is likely to ski in two more Olympics, maybe even a third by the time she’s 38. As we are seeing, athletes today compete longer: see Brady, Rodgers, et al.

Shiffrin could still easily get 8 to 10 more chances in the Olympic race. She could win another 35 World Cup races. That would give her 108. (Career record is 86.)

Shiffrin’s Beijing race results were astonishing and believable, and her disheartened reaction to her fall was heartbreaking.

But they seem to fit the history of any long, high-profile sports career in any sport. And I guess I was only 12 years old in the 20 years I had to write about her. Mikaela Shiffrin’s career is far from over

Fry Electronics Team

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