Mikaela Shiffrin was 18 years and 345 days old when she became the youngest women’s Olympic slalom champion of all time at Sochi 2014. The US skier was only 23 when she added giant slalom gold and Alpine combined silver at PyeongChang 2018. In the meantime, Shiffrin won back-to-back overall World Cup titles in 2017 and 2018, to add to her three consecutive slalom world titles. .
RAPID RISE“It’s my art,” said Shiffrin of her sport. “It’s like a puzzle or a painting or music. When I ski, it’s like a song. I can hear the rhythm in my head, and when I start to ski that rhythm and I start to really link my turns together, all of a sudden there's so much flow and power that I just can't help but feel amazing. That’s where the joy comes from.”
Born a stone’s throw from Vail ski resort in Colorado (USA), Shiffrin exhibited remarkable skiing talent from an early age. At 15, she competed in her first FIS-approved race, a Nor-Am Cup super combined event in Panorama (CAN). A few weeks later, the American youngster won a bronze medal in the slalom at the 2011 Junior World Ski Championships in Crans-Montana (SUI). A historic slalom success at the US National Championships followed, as did a breakthrough third-place finish at the FIS World Cup meet in Lienz (AUT) on 29 December 2011.
ON TOP OF THE WORLDShiffren came into her own the following season, following up a maiden World Cup slalom victory in Åre (SWE) in December 2012 with two equally impressive triumphs in the same event in Zagreb (CRO) and Flachau (AUT). On 16 February 2013, the 17-year-old was crowned slalom world champion in Schladming (AUT), performing strongly in her second run to leap from third to first place. A subsequent World Cup success in Lenzerheide (SUI) saw her top the slalom standings and claim the small crystal globe.
MAKING HISTORY IN SOCHIIn the lead-up to Sochi 2014, Shiffrin hit a tremendous run of form in the World Cup, securing victories in Levi (FIN), Bormio (ITA) and again in Flachau. On the slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, she achieved her greatest success to date, becoming the youngest ever Olympic women’s slalom gold medallist at the age of 18 years and 345 days.
After building up a sizeable lead in her first run, the precocious skier flirted with disaster in the second, coming close to falling before expertly regaining her equilibrium and somehow managing to maintain her speed. A month later, she secured a second successive slalom World Cup title, boosted by two additional wins in Åre and Lenzerheide.
DREAMING OF A DOMINANT FUTURE“My dream now is to win five gold medals at the next Olympic Games. I know it probably seems crazy!” said Shiffrin after her Sochi triumph. She set about the task of backing those words up with actions by winning the opening giant slalom of the 2014/15 season in Sölden (AUT). And in continuing her dominance in the event, she won five races that winter to claim a third successive small crystal globe.
The season also saw Shiffrin successfully defend her slalom world title on home snow in Vail/Beaver Creek (USA) and continue an unbroken run of success in the event, one that had brought her two world titles, three World Cup crowns and an Olympic gold medal.
STILL INVINCIBLEAfter ending the 2014/15 World Cup season with three straight victories, Shiffrin continued her run at the start of the following campaign, winning two slalom races in Aspen (USA) in late November. Her progress was checked a couple of weeks later, when she injured her right knee in a giant slalom training run in Åre (SWE).
Having sustained ligament damage, all the indications were that Shiffrin would be out for the rest of the season, but she was miraculously back in action in March 2016, taking the honours in the final three slalom races of the season to extend her winning run to eight. In her absence, however, Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter collected enough points to beat the American to the slalom crystal globe.
ACCOLADES KEEP COMINGShiffrin hit the top of the overall World Cup standings for the first time in her career in the 2016/17 season, in which she also set about defending her slalom world title in St Moritz (SUI). A silver medallist in the giant slalom behind France’s Tessa Worley, the US skier then produced one of the finest slalom performances of her career, finishing a full 1.64 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener to make it three world titles in a row. She is only the second skier in history to achieve the feat, after Germany’s Christl Cranz in the 1930s.
The Vail skier followed up by claiming her first big crystal globe – courtesy of 11 wins (seven in the slalom, three in the giant and one in the combined) and 14 top-three finishes – and her fourth small crystal globe in the slalom.
NO STOPPING SHIFFRINThe following campaign proved to be a record-breaking one for the American. Victorious no fewer than nine times in World Cup slalom races, she also posted her maiden downhill win, in Lake Louise (CAN), and won two giant slaloms. In the process, she set a new record of 42 career wins before her 23rd birthday, eclipsing the Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll.
Her 12 victories and 18 podium finishes across the season secured her a second consecutive big crystal globe fully five races before the end of the campaign, which also brought her a second Olympic gold, at PyeongChang 2018. It came in the giant slalom, where, after lying second in the first run, she produced a storming second descent to beat Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel by 0.39 seconds and Italy’s Federica Brignone by 0.46 seconds.
“I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the giant, which makes this win all the more special for me,” she said after pocketing her gold. “It’s an event in which I’ve always struggled to find the right rhythm. That’s why I have to train a lot. I have to find the right tempo to be aggressive.”
Competing in the slalom 24 hours later, a mentally and physically tired Shiffrin came in fourth, relinquishing her title to Hansdotter. She was back on the podium a few days later, however, taking silver in the Alpine combined behind Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin.
“This season has been totally crazy,” said Shiffrin at the end of the campaign. “So many incredible things have happened. I don’t know how I could have done any better. One of the highlights was obviously winning Olympic gold in the giant. That was a huge moment. Naturally, I was disappointed not to make the slalom podium at the Games, but it was still great to end up with two medals. Someone told me that I’d won 12 races this season, and I was like: ‘Really? That’s cool’.”
In continuing to compete across a range of events, the remarkable Shiffrin, who will still only be 27 when Beijing 2022 comes around, has her sights set on further World Cup, World Championship and Olympic success.