Alpine skiing: Mikaela Shiffrin set up as U.S. star
By Howard Fendrich
Feb 01, 2018 | 5:00 AM
If Mikaela Shiffrin continues to race as well as she has been, she is setting herself up to be the biggest star of the Pyeongchang Olympics. Not just of Alpine skiing, but the entire Winter Games.
To put it simply: She is about as close to unbeatable as can be right now.
Shiffrin, a 22-year-old American, won the first five women’s World Cup races she entered in 2018, competing against the best the world has to offer and outclassing them time and again. And Shiffrin is not merely winning — she is overwhelming opponents, sometimes collecting victories by more than 1.5 seconds, a large margin in a sport often decided by hundredths.
Born in Colorado and raised in New Hampshire and Vermont, Shiffrin was 18 at the 2014 Sochi Games, when she became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in history. Her 41st career World Cup race win, which came in January, equaled the highest total for a ski racer under 23.
Now she heads to Pyeongchang as an overwhelming favorite to be the first to win consecutive slalom golds. What’s more, she will be a contender to win the giant slalom and combined, too, for a chance to match the Alpine record of three titles at one Olympics.
It’s possible that she could enter the super-G and downhill, too, which would make her something never seen these days: a five-event threat.
“When I go to South Korea, I’m not going to be thinking about what I did in Sochi or what I did even previously in this season,” Shiffrin said. “Hopefully, I’ll just be thinking about the task at hand.”
VONN’S RETURN AND FAREWELL: Shiffrin’s U.S. teammate Lindsey Vonn was supposed to be the one to watch at the Sochi Olympics but never got the chance to defend her downhill gold medal from Vancouver in 2010 because of a knee injury. Back on the sport’s biggest stage for the last time at age 33, Vonn can add to her legacy as one of the all-time greatest ski racers (she owns a women’s record 78 World Cup wins) by earning one more medal in a speed event, downhill or super-G.
ELUSIVE GOLD: Marcel Hirscher is as dominant among the men as Shiffrin is among the women. The Austrian has won an unprecedented six consecutive overall World Cup titles and appears on his way to No. 7. As of mid-January, he put together a five-slalom winning streak. “He is just better. That’s the way it is,” said Henrik Kristoffersen, a Norwegian who perpetually ends up in second place, behind Hirscher. But for everything he’s done, Hirscher has yet to win an Olympic gold medal, despite four top-five finishes in slalom or giant slalom at Sochi and Vancouver.
REMEMBER THESE NAMES: Some folks to keep an eye on who could spring a surprise include Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, the last person to beat Shiffrin in a slalom race before the American’s lengthy winning streak; Sofia Goggia of Italy, who will be making her Olympic debut but won two World Cup races on the mountain in South Korea in March 2017; Michael Matt of Austria, whose older brother Mario defeated Hirscher for the gold in slalom four years ago; Andrew Weibrecht of the United States (nickname: War Horse), who came out of nowhere to pick up medals in 2010 and 2014 and maybe — just maybe — could do it again.
BYE, BODE: After a U.S.-record six Alpine medals (one gold, three silvers, two bronzes) across five Winter Games appearances, and one infamous boast about partying “at an Olympic level” at the 2006 Turin Games, Bode Miller will not be on the slopes in Pyeongchang. He will, however, be offering his thoughts on TV, which should be insightful and entertaining. Other familiar faces who’ll be absent: Tina Maze, a Slovenian who won two golds four years ago; Maria Hoefl-Riesch, a German medal who collected three golds and one silver at the past two Olympics; and Ivica Kostelic, a Croatian with four Olympic silvers.
NEW EVENT: A team event is being added at the end of the Olympic Alpine schedule for the first time. Some athletes — notably Shiffrin — have said they doubt they’ll participate, but it could be a way for ski racers who had a disappointing Olympics to make one last bid for a medal.
Americans to watch
Lindsey Vonn: The St. Paul, Minn., native is the winningest female ski racer of all time with 79 World Cup victories. She captured Olympic gold (downhill) and bronze (super-G) medals in 2010. Vonn, 33, who missed the Sochi Games because of injury, earned bronze in downhill at the 2017 world championships.
Mikaela Shiffrin: As an 18-year-old in Sochi, the Vail, Colo., native became the youngest athlete in history (male or female) to win an Olympic slalom gold medal. Shiffrin, 22, is also a contender in giant slalom, as well as combined and super-G. In 2017, she became just the fifth American woman to win an overall World Cup title.
Ted Ligety: In Sochi, the Salt Lake City native became the first American man to win a giant slalom gold medal and the first in U.S. history to win two Olympic gold medals in Alpine skiing. Ligety, 33, had back surgery in January 2017 that wiped out his season, but he’s a strong contender to win gold if healthy.
Resi Stiegler: The Jackson Hole, Wyo., native is headed to her third Olympics after finishing 29th in giant slalom in Sochi. Stiegler, 32, is the daughter of Josef “Pepi” Stiegler, who won a gold medal in slalom and a bronze in giant slalom for Austria at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.
Tommy Ford: The Hanover, N.H., native qualified by placing 10th in giant slalom at Beaver Creek, Colo., in December, his best career World Cup finish. Ford, 28, a 2010 Olympian who has won eight national titles in giant slalom, is returning from a fractured right femur suffered in January 2013, an injury that kept him out of competition for nearly two years.
Andrew Weibrecht: The Saranac Lake, N.Y., native won the super-G bronze medal at his Olympic debut in 2010, and in 2014, he upset teammate Bode Miller for the silver medal in Sochi. Weibrecht, 31, is one of just five U.S. men to win multiple Olympic medals in Alpine skiing.