Mikaela Shiffrin closes in on Lindsey Vonn’s World Cup record

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The trek from the mountain in Levi, Finland – where Mikaela Shiffrin opened the World Cup alpine season by winning the first two races and adding trophies to a stack with no limits – consisted of a race back to the hotel with 45 minutes to pack. a drive to nearby Kittila for a flight to Helsinki for a stay in an airport hotel to sleep before the alarm at 4 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. flight to Frankfurt, Germany to catch another plane to Boston where they left their bags could pack, rent a car and drive the three hours to Killington, Vt. arriving around 8pm

Of course there is fatigue. There is so much more.

“After a race I’m so excited I can’t even sleep,” she said. ‘I’m just totally like, ‘Aaaaah!’ Especially after the start of the season it was so spectacular that I just couldn’t switch off.”

Which assumes Shiffrin’s brain even has an off switch. There is little evidence of this. Those two slalom wins in Finland were the 75th and 76th World Cup wins of a career that is second to none. Lindsey Vonn holds the women’s record at 82 and Ingemar Stenmark holds the human record at 86. This is the club. It’s small.

When you consider that Killington’s slalom has been run five times and Shiffrin has won all five, and do the math that she’s had three separate seasons where she’s won more than 12 races — well, the stuff of dreams is starting to seem real.

“I used to think that if I got to a certain point in my career with enough wins, I would finally start feeling confident that I was a winner and deserved to be there, and success has come . I’m here,” Shiffrin said in a phone call from Killington this week. “Finally i am there. I’m at the goal.

“And I realize now that it will never feel like this. And every morning when I wake up, the first thing I think to myself is: What do I have to do today to earn this again?”

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She has won all her sporting accolades: gold medals at Olympic Games (two), gold medals at World Championships (six), World Cup overall titles (four), races in all disciplines offered. The driving, everyday motivation: Earning all that again.

“Which is okay,” she continued. “It’s not a bad feeling. In a way, I think it’s almost a healthier way to not think about things that went right in the past, but just keep working on your dreams – wherever they take you.”

Killington — one giant slalom Saturday, one slalom Sunday — is the only US stop on the women’s World Cup schedule. Shiffrin loves these events, just two hours from where she is studying at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. “It’s such a gift, such a nice atmosphere, a nice audience,” she said.

But it’s also very much a business trip. She is there to work and when some of the women move to speed racing in Lake Louise, Canada the following week, she will return to Europe to focus on training for the technical disciplines giant slalom and slalom She is 63 of their 76 World Cup victories.

In all the years I’ve spoken to Shiffrin, from when she was 17 and bursting onto the international stage until her first Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, I’ve often wondered if her nervousness before races or her relentless pursuit of perfection – she is a training and video junkie – overwhelmed by her joy of victory. Now that she’s 27 and somehow closer to the end of her career than when she started, I realize I’ve been thinking backwards.

Do some training sessions in Levi in ​​the weeks leading up to the races there. Instead of returning to Copper Mountain in Colorado, where many American racers trained for speed, US technical racers stayed in Europe and trained in Finland – with some of the best Europeans. There, American teammate Paula Moltzan put in one brilliant run after the other.

“I would say, ‘What do I have to do to try to catch her?’ ‘ Shiffrin said. “And then maybe I would go head to head or go a little bit faster – and then she would do a faster time.” And her voice gets emotional here. “These are the days that are pretty fun. That’s amazing to have in a training environment like this.”

We see the results and count the wins and consider what is possible and what would be legendary. For Shiffrin, there’s more joy in what we don’t see.

“It’s more like I ski race for training and how much fun it is to train when I’m skiing well compared to racing,” Shiffrin said. “The racing part is something that makes me wonder if I want to do that and the practice is what keeps me coming back.”

After the sudden and tragic death of her father Jeff in early 2020 and the pandemic and all the chaos she had wreaked, a return wasn’t always a guarantee. An Olympics in Beijing, where she not only didn’t finish a medal, but also didn’t finish a slalom, giant slalom or the alpine combined, could have pushed her even further into the abyss. Retirement — even at 27, with historical marks ahead — is always somewhere on the front of the stove, simmering slowly.

“I’m glad I stuck with it up to this point, but it’s definitely still something that’s kind of on my mind,” Shiffrin said. “When will the moment come when I will decide that the work is no longer worth the reward? And I haven’t felt that way before, mainly because of the work – I really enjoy the work.”

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Her work almost always brings results. The results push limits that only the legends of the sport have reached. But while Vonn and Stenmark’s tracks are certainly in their line of sight, that doesn’t make them Shiffrin’s primary motivation.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a factor at all that I never thought about it,” Shiffrin said. “But it’s not the driving force.

“Lindsey, she has earned the respect of the entire ski racing world. Throughout her career, so much of what she did was so groundbreaking. So whatever I do, it doesn’t change what happened in her career. I would be so proud to hold that record. But it’s not what makes me happy when I look back on my career.”

She can look back on her career and realize that she has already achieved more than she could have hoped for. The rest of us can look ahead and notice the landmarks on the horizon. The joy for the Killington crowd would revel in another Shiffrin win. The joy for Shiffrin would be the improvement in training runs the week before. Both can exist in the same space. They all lead to a place — of unprecedented achievement — that makes it hard to turn your brain off.

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