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Mikaela Shiffrin wanted to cement a first-place finish in the season’s giant slalom competition in Are, Sweden, last Friday. She did that—and then seemed genuinely flabbergasted when she tied Ingemar Stenmark’s long-standing record of 86 World Cup victories with her win in the GS race.
Then, on Saturday, with zero expectations, Shiffrin went on to win the slalom race, notching her 87th World Cup victory and officially becoming the greatest ski racer of all time.
“I came out thinking, that’s good,” the skier, who grew up in Eagle County and lives in Edwards, said after Friday’s race. “It’s done. I don’t have anything else to race for, so I’m not sure how I’ll feel about [Saturday’s race]. Will I still have the motivation? Or will I just want to coast for the rest of the season? I don’t know. Then, when I was in the start gate, I was so hyped up to ski fast. I was just like, I want to race this, not for 87, just because I want to race this. There was nothing else that I even dreamed of accomplishing this season.”
The self-proclaimed introvert—who also has a talent for playing guitar, singing, and dancing, and who turned 28 on Monday—had never dreamt of breaking records or winning medals. When people ask her what it’s like to be the greatest of all time, she downplays the title.
“The G.O.A.T. term is really interesting to me because all I can see in my mind is a baby goat or like a fainting goat,” Shiffrin says. “On my Instagram, I’ve been getting a whole lot of videos about goats lately—baby goats, fainting goats, baby humans holding baby goats. When I hear G.O.A.T., I just kind of laugh.”
I’ve covered the women’s Alpine World Cup tour for several years as a media correspondent for the International Ski Federation. I was there when a 16-year-old Shiffrin landed on her first World Cup podium (she has since notched a whopping 176 more of those, by the way, not counting Olympic or World Championship medals). It was December 2011 in Lienz, Austria. Shy and soft-spoken, Shiffrin spent most of her time at the press conference talking with admiration about her teammate, fellow Vail native Sarah Schleper, who had just skied her final World Cup race that day.
“She has inspired so many people to pursue the sport,” teenage Shiffrin said of Schleper. “That’s more important than how many podiums she did have or didn’t have. She’s just an unstoppable force in life.”
Interestingly, that’s what Shiffrin would become. This was perhaps most evident after she lost her father, Jeff Shiffrin, following an accident at the family’s home in February 2020. Shiffrin and her mother Eileen, who has traveled with and helped coach her daughter her entire career, returned to Colorado to be with Jeff for his last breaths.
Devastated and heartbroken, Shiffrin charged onward. She would continue dominating, carrying the memory of her father to every event and achievement, including in Sweden last weekend. After her Saturday race, Shiffrin said of Are, “It’s the site of my first World Cup win. It’s the place where I had my first major injury. I won three championship medals here. This is the race that I was going to come back to after my dad passed away. It’s where we were when COVID hit. My experiences in Are have been both tumultuous and vibrant, some of the most incredible experiences in my life and some of the most painful moments, as well.”
Before her father passed, the 2018–’19 season was Shiffrin’s most dominant. She won 17 World Cups as well as three medals (two gold and one bronze) at the World Champs in Are. She took home her third-straight World Cup overall title, sixth slalom title, and first GS and super G titles. Although the next two seasons were great by any measure, for Shiffrin, they presented a lull, culminating at the 2022 Winter Olympics when the Colorado star and medal favorite failed to finish three of six events. Nevertheless, Shiffrin proved resilient, bouncing back after the Olympics to win yet another World Cup overall title.
Still, she felt the results of her remarkable 2018–’19 campaign were behind her. And so, come 2023, her 14 victories—not to mention her fifth overall title, seventh slalom title, and second GS title—snuck up on her.
“It’s a number I never thought I’d hit in a single season again in my career,” she said in Sweden. “I thought if I could scrape by with five [wins] and the overall, that would be out of this world. So, I don’t really know what to say about this season. So many things have to go right for this to work, to win one race, let alone 87.”
Shiffrin still has a few races to tackle as the 2023 season wraps up this week with World Cup finals in Andorra. Many people are talking about how she will continue to grow her win record to truly untouchable numbers, but Shiffrin is still not aiming for records or ranks. Sticking with the humility that has been her M.O. since her very first podium, she faces each race with nervous focus, genuinely not knowing how it will shake out.
“We get nervous because we’re not certain about what’s going to happen and because we care about what’s going to happen,” she said last Saturday. “That was probably the coolest thing for me to experience today—the motivation and the anticipation and nervousness of ski racing that’s always been there for me since the first race, since the first victory, long before anyone ever thought I was going to break 86 wins.”