Approximately one month before the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, Mikaela Shiffrin was still a little out of breath after returning from a slalom training session in Austria on Thursday afternoon. Shiffrin’s eighth Olympic and world championship gold medal came as a pleasant surprise, but it was also because she is once again leading the Alpine World Cup overall standings.
Shiffrin all but anticipated her return ten weeks ago, as she sat in the kitchen of her Colorado home, after almost two years of grieving the accidental loss of her father, a succession of nettlesome ailments, and inconsistent results (by her record-setting standards). She was also displeased with the fact that certain members of the ski racing fraternity had already written her off as a contender.
“Like, truly, folks, how quickly do you forget?” “Like, seriously, people, how quickly do you forget?” Her voice was rising as she said. If something terrible occurs, it’s like coming back from a serious injury. No, I hadn’t lost my skill or lost my passion; I was only recovering, understand?”
In preparation for the Beijing Games, Shiffrin, 26, has endured a race season that has been vastly different from the ones that preceded her appearances at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she became the youngest slalom gold medalist in history, or the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, where she won gold and silver medals in the combined events. For example, because of a positive coronavirus test last week, she was quarantined in Central Europe for nine days, spending the majority of her time “sitting around or lying down in a room,” according to her, and was prohibited from engaging in any exercise that would increase her heartbeat or breathing rate. She was unable to walk outdoors, so she delicately flexed two exercise bands and gently hoisted a kettlebell in front of her.
Then, on Tuesday, a day after she was authorised to return to the World Cup circuit, she found herself in the starting gate of a long, hard slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, and pondered aloud: “Would anybody object if I stopped halfway through to rest?” she asked.
Shiffrin placed second behind her main opponent, Petra Vlhova, in the first run of the competition, but she outperformed Vlhova and practically the whole field in the second run. That type of aggressive closing run had been Shiffrin’s trademark up until last season, when she surprisingly surrendered numerous first-run leads at the midway point of events.
Shiffrin stated on Thursday that she has seen a significant improvement in her performances this season. When she says she is feeling more like herself again, this is one of the things she is referring to. For example, during last year’s Zagreb race, Shiffrin said that she was preoccupied and depressed between runs, something that has occurred on a regular basis since her father’s death on February 2, 2020.
Shiffrin started seeing a sports psychologist last summer and has said that it is now easier for her to compartmentalise her emotions and focus only on skiing while she is training or competing in competitions.
Participating in every sport at the 2022 Olympics might have historic ramifications. The Olympics begin this Sunday, and Shiffrin would be a credible candidate for four medals if they were held this weekend. Janica Kostelic of Croatia holds the record for the most medals won by a female athlete in a single Olympics with three. Shiffrin has previously won three Olympic medals, including two gold, throughout her career. Men’s and women’s skiers from the United States have never won more than two gold medals in the Olympics.
During a press conference on Thursday, Shiffrin, whose World Cup season continues this weekend with two races in Slovenia, said there was just one concern over her participation in five Olympic events.
“I think Mikaela would really like that, and I’m looking forward to it,” she added of the five-event programme. There is an asterisk next to it because all of the male and female races are compacted into two weeks. If you have a series of delayed races, which is common, your plans may easily be thrown off track.”
Shiffrin maintained her positive attitude as she prepared to travel from Austria to Slovenia on Friday. However, despite being diagnosed with Covid-19, Shiffrin found reason to be hopeful as she entered her last month before the Games in Rio de Janeiro. It is possible that her recovery will make it significantly less probable that she will test positive for the virus while competing in the Games.
Then she laughed and said that she “should be one of the safest persons” in her current situation. I’ve been walking around with my mask on all the time. “Like, all over the place.”