Shiffrin set to make Olympic golds dream a reality
Four years ago Mikaela Shiffrin had a “crazy” dream of winning five gold medals at the 2018 Olympics. That aim is seeming less and less unrealistic.
Just after becoming the youngest ever Olympic slalom champion at the Sochi Games, the then 18-year-old Shiffrin dreamed aloud “of the next Olympics (and) winning five gold medals.”
Right away she admitted her ambition “sounds really crazy.”
However, less than five weeks ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, that number seems more obtainable than ever before.
Shiffrin probably won’t win that handful of gold medals, but mainly because she is unlikely to enter five different events in South Korea.
She will only decide on short notice which events she is going to enter at the Olympics.
Unlike at previous games, this time the technical races of GS and slalom are the first events on the women’s Alpine Olympic schedule, enabling Shiffrin to compete in her core disciplines before making up her mind on possible starts in the speed events of downhill and super-G, and the concluding combined and team events.
Developed into a potential winner of every race she competes in, and even triumphing for the first time in a downhill in December, Shiffrin has been dominating the Alpine skiing World Cup for months.
Her win in a slalom in Slovenia on Sunday was her ninth of the season, and seventh out of the last eight races, boosting her career total to 40.
That number leaves her one short of the all-time record for most World Cup wins by a 22-year-old, set by Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell in the 1970s.
With the World Cup season approaching the halfway mark, Shiffrin is leading the overall standings as well as every single discipline except for super-G, the only event she hasn’t won yet.
Her season stats are even far exceeding her achievements from last year, when she became the third American female skier after Tamara McKinney and four-time champion Lindsey Vonn to win the overall title.
Though winning is not all that Shiffrin is after.
“It’s a good way to put it that I am not competing, I am just enjoying every turn that I make, to make every turn aggressive,” Shiffrin said. “Right now I am just enjoying that so much, the skiing, that it’s even more important than the winning.”
Still, the wins keep piling up.
With 100 points for every victory, Shiffrin has racked up 1,281 World Cup points after 18 of this season’s 38 races and looks set to break the record for the most World Cup points in a single season — 2,414 by retired Slovenian great Tina Maze, a record many deemed unbreakable.
In her main event, Shiffrin is not just winning, she is crushing the field. She triumphed in the past four slaloms by margins of 1.64, 0.89, 1.59 and again 1.64 seconds — a country mile in the sport.
Having won 20 of the last 25 slaloms she entered, it’s hard to see past Shiffrin for gold at the Pyeongchang Games, even if the American doesn’t regard herself unbeatable by any means.
“Every single of the competitors can match,” she said. “That makes me even more motivated to keep moving forward.”
While a night race in Flachau on Tuesday will be the penultimate slalom ahead of the Olympics, Shiffrin will be eager to keep her momentum going in weeks to come.
After Sunday’s race, Frida Hansdotter of Sweden praised the American for “taking the sport to another level.”
But Shiffrin, who usually refrains from keeping track of her records and statistics, said “it doesn’t feel like it’s something crazy that’s happening.”
This time, she said, “it’s not like dreaming. And that’s really cool.”
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.