In the midst of seasons and watching who wins and who loses, it’s easy to lose perspective when seeing an athlete having a historic season, or seasons.
Sometimes, it’s best to just enjoy seeing one of those special performers who are obviously one of the best to ever compete in their sport.
In the big American team sports, we say these are “Hall of Famers.” Mikaela Shiffrin is one of those, and she is still closer to the beginning of her career than to the end. That’s amazing.
Being an Alpine skier means that times are irrelevant. Every mountain is different, every run is different, not to mention the weather. But what matters is who wins and how consistently. And Shiffrin is winning at an astonishing pace.
She joined the Alpine World Cup for the end of the 2010-11 season and didn’t qualify for the second run in either a Giant Slalom or Slalom in the Czech Republic. In fact, in her first 10 World Cup races, from March of 2011 through January of 2012, she finished eighth once, didn’t qualify for the second run five times, didn’t finish three times … and won one bronze medal.
That was at ages 15 and 16; she didn’t get her first win until December of 2012, at 17. Six years later – now age 23 – she is on the verge of winning her third World Cup seasonal title in a row, a feat achieved just three times previously, by Annemarie Moser-Proell (AUT: 1971-75), Austria’s Petra Kronberger (1990-92) and American Lindsey Vonn, in 2008-09-10.
Even more stunning is her winning or medal percentage when looked at against the number of starts she makes. We checked the records and compiled these numbers, by race type and total:
● 8 starts
● 1 win (12.5% of her starts)
● 2 total medals (25.0% of her starts)
● 11 starts
● 3 wins (27.3%)
● 3 total medals (27.3%)
● 56 starts
● 9 wins (16.1%)
● 18 total medals (32.1%)
● 67 starts
● 38 wins (56.7%)
● 47 total medals (70.1%)
● 2 starts
● 2 wins (100.0%)
● 2 total medals (100.0%)
● 6 starts
● 3 wins (50.0%)
● 5 total medals (83.3%)
All Slalom-style events:
● 75 starts
● 43 wins (57.3%)
● 54 total medals (72.0%)
● 2 starts
● 1 win (50.0%)
● 1 total medal (50.0%)
● 152 starts
● 57 wins (37.5%)
● 79 total medals (52.0%)
Think about this: Shiffrin wins a medal more than half the time she has ever started a World Cup race. She wins more than a third of the time.
And if she is racing in the Slalom (or a Slalom-style race), she wins 57% of her starts and wins a medal more than seven times out of every 10 starts?
Who does this? And over a career that may have 10 or more years remaining?
In the pantheon of the greatest women’s skiers of all time, the retirement age keeps getting pushes back thanks to better opportunities, better training, nutrition, sports medicine and so on. Moser-Proell retired after the 1980 Winter Olympics at age 26. Switzerland’s Schneider retired in 1995 at age 30. Vonn just retired at age 34 due to injuries, something Shiffrin has been mostly able to avoid.
Vonn helped to publicize the chase for the all-time record for the most World Cup victories in history. She won 82 times, the most among women, and if not for her many crashes, would have eclipsed Swede Ingemar Stenmark’s total of 86 from 1973-89.
Shiffrin is 23 and already has 57 wins. She has a record-tying 14 World Cup wins this season and will likely end with 16-18. If she ends with 60 this season and wins “just” 10 times in the next two seasons, she will pass Vonn and probably Stenmark during the 2021-22 season, which also includes the Winter Games in Beijing. And she will still be just 27.
If she stays healthy – no guarantee in skiing, as Vonn well knows – she could set the mark for career World Cup wins somewhere in the 110-120 range and maybe even higher. As a primarily technical skier – Giant Slalom and Slalom – the courses are not quite as dangerous as for the Downhillers, so her career might stretch well into her 30s … if she chooses.
That’s the statistical brilliance of Shiffrin: we are watching a woman who is likely to be the greatest Alpine skier of all time, more dominant than any man or woman who has come before. So she needs to be appreciated for the history that she is making, every time she comes down the slopes.
All of that is made very easy by Shiffrin’s earnest demeanor, desire to be as great as she can be, tremendous work ethic and an emotional authenticity to her skiing and her situations. She knows exactly what she has to do every time she races and takes nothing for granted. She is reported to work well with her coaches and has her mother, Eileen, with her on the circuit to keep her focused.
She makes plenty of money from skiing, and a lot more from her sponsors. She earns all of it and unlike some American athletes who seem oblivious to the public, or are distant, she comes across as caring, critical and feels she is only as good as her next race.
All of these qualities make her someone who will be in the spotlight for a long time. And like so many other artists whose work stands out not only among their peers, but against history, Mikaela Shiffrin needs to not just be applauded, but appreciated.
Set your DVR for one of those World Cup Slaloms in Europe that come on early in the morning on NBCSN or NBC’s Olympic Channel and watch an artisan at work. She’ll be making history.