Shiffrin passed Vonn by winning her 83rd World Cup race, the most by a female skier. She now needs just four more wins to break Ingemar Stenmark’s career record of 86.
For Mikaela Shiffrin, Tuesday was more than just another giant slalom race. Shiffrin’s win in Kronplatz, Italy, was the 83rd World Cup triumph of her career, giving her the most wins by a female skier in history.
Lindsey Vonn, another American star and a role model for Shiffrin — even though Vonn specialized in speed races and Shiffrin is a slalom specialist — had been the sport’s previous female standard-bearer with 82 World Cup wins. Shiffrin now needs just four more wins to break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins, the most by a male or female skier.
For Shiffrin, 27, breaking the record in Tuesday’s giant slalom is the latest feat in a remarkable career that began when she was still in her early teens more than a decade ago. She burst onto the scene as a skiing prodigy, seemingly destined for greatness, the daughter of two competitive skiers who began perfecting her turns at the age of 8 under the lights on frigid New Hampshire nights at Storrs Hill — vertical drop 300 feet. A tiny hill, yes, but also an opportunity for plenty of runs and turns.
No one is destined for anything in Alpine skiing though. The sport has essentially a 100 percent injury rate, and nearly every racer at some point experiences a career-threatening crash. Shiffrin has miraculously managed to avoid that fate so far, making her path to Tuesday’s record-breaking run all the faster, and even more fitting.
She has been the youngest American skier to hit so many milestones in a career with just one major blemish — her inability to win a medal, or even complete most of her races, at the Beijing Olympics. She still won the overall World Cup title for 2022 and managed to win a downhill race just weeks after the mess in Beijing.
Her mother and coach, Eileen Shiffrin, said in an interview this month that the disappointment of Beijing set the stage for a period of personal growth last summer that would bear fruit for years.
“Those will be lifelong lessons,” she said.
The journey has been a whirlwind, and, by all accounts, most importantly Shiffrin’s, it still seems to have a long way to go. She brought in a new trainer and technician before this season, and whether she wins 83 more ski races or none, she has tried to find peace in the process.
After her 80th win, Shiffrin took a rare moment to reflect on the breadth of the accomplishment, telling her mother that while some people may think the winning comes easy, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Every single one of those wins took so much effort,” Eileen Shiffrin said her daughter told her. “You can’t believe how much effort it takes. I could easily not win another race.”
That seemed very unlikely, Shiffrin had already won 80 of her 230 starts, a 35 percent win rate across all five disciplines in a sport where top skiers can go years between victories.
The American skiing cognoscenti started hearing about Shiffrin before she hit her teens even though she raced far less than most juniors. She dazzled coaches at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, one of the country’s premier factories for Alpine talent, but she spent most Saturdays training rather than traveling for hours in a car for a race. Her father, Jeff, believed there was far more value in those extra hours on the snow than in collecting ribbons and medals that no one would soon care about.
By the time she made her World Cup debut at 15 in March 2011, Shiffrin appeared to possess a preternatural kind of balance that allowed her to transform a 60-turn slalom race into a kind of dance down an icy slope. The gates weren’t obstacles as much as they were opportunities for her to gain more speed.
A month later, she became America’s youngest ever national Alpine champion.