Alpine Skiing

Exclusive with Mikaela Shiffrin: "I don't want to end on this note"

The American double Olympic champion, with a new perspective on life and racing, hopes to return to the slopes in November.

By ZK Goh ·

Mikaela Shiffrin wants you to know she isn't contemplating quitting ski racing just yet.

Despite an annus horribilis for the double Olympic champion, who lost both her maternal grandmother and then her father in the last 12 months in addition to the global pandemic, she intends to return to the slopes.

"This year – especially this summer and the process of getting our feet back under us – has opened my eyes to so much more than ski racing," the American told Olympic Channel's Ashlee Tulloch on an Instagram live interview, during which she projected incredible strength and revealed emotional vulnerability.

"At the same time it's kind of solidified my motivation that I want to get back to the sport. I don't want to end my career as a ski racer on this note of having to step away from the sport because of a family tragedy," she said.

The tragedies in her personal life left Shiffrin considering her future for a while.

"I want to be in the start gate again and I want to enjoy it and it's going to take a little bit of time to get to a really good place. But I'm happy about that process, I'm in that process, one step at a time.

"I think about the future but it's just trying to understand more about where I am now. Right now the future is a very blurry image."

Reflecting on how her losses have changed her outlook, the 25-year-old recalled racing the day after her grandmother died last October.

"Focussing on the race felt a little bit stupid because of everything else that was going on, and there's a lot of things I feel that way about now.

"Pretty much most things that I would've normally get worked up over, (…) my perspective now has changed a little bit and I'm like 'well, that's not worth worrying about, because even if it happens it's not the worst thing that can happen'."

Shiffrin should have taken to the start gate for the first time since her father's death in February at the World Cup season opener in Sölden, Austria, on 17 October.

However, a back injury meant she was not able to travel, instead staying in Colorado to work on her rehabilitation – Shiffrin last spent time training in start gates in a July camp with the U.S. national team. She's aiming to return to the World Cup circuit in Levi, Finland.on 21/22 November.

"It's hopefully a short thing; it's healing. I'm doing rehab and PT and should be back skiing, racing in November. That's my goal.

"I should know before Levi, pretty solidly, because I need to get some training in before we race. I'm kind of working with minimal preparation, but back home here in Colorado it's getting a little chilly so we should be able to get on the mountains, get on some snow.

"I'll be able to hopefully test it out, and if I feel pain then I guess I'll need a little longer, but I don't think I'm going to feel pain. It's going to work."

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"Air to breathe"

When asked to describe the last 12 months, Shiffrin compared the sensation to gasping for air.

"It's kind of been this constant, like waves crashing over me and my whole family and you just feel like you're getting enough air to stay alive, but not enough air to actually breathe," she said.

"I know there are people out there experiencing worse. So it's about being grateful for what you still do have, the family you still have, what you still have to look forward to, and trying to take that sort of outlook as much as possible."

Shiffrin's father Jeff suffered an accident at home in February while she and her mother were in Europe preparing for a race. The pair made it home to be with him in hospital during his final moments.

Since then, the skier has taken up lessons in finance administration and taxes as she gets to grips with doing the role her dad did previously.

"My dad took care of all of that for the whole family but especially also for me, and I was like 'okay over the next few years you can teach me about everything that's going on and how you keep track of it all', but this February kind of just hit like a hammer," she explained.

"Most athletes have somebody who's helping with that, an accountant or tax advisor. My dad was all of the helpers in one, so I didn't have anybody to go to to say, 'can you help us figure out how this is kind of working'.

"It does get overwhelming, and I do want to stay in bed all the time. My mom has been a total rock, she's been going through all this with me as well.

"My actual job is to ski and to do my workouts, (but) I'm spending eight hours a day at my computer – I might as well be in college and not even be an athlete right now. It's overwhelming because I feel like the necessity of survival in life, and just the things that you have to do as an adult, take me away from the job."

In the meantime, Shiffrin is relying on music to tide her through the difficult days.

Shiffrin's father's legacy

Last month, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Federation launched the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund, aimed at helping its athletes fill a funding gap in their quests to reach the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.

The fund is meant to help offset "the loss of funding that the organisation has faced this year with the pandemic and not having any of the fundraising events that we normally have – it's not a government-supported organisation, so we completely rely on these events," Shiffrin explained.

"These two main families that have been enormous supporters (of U.S. Ski & Snowboard) for a really long time came to me and to my family and said, 'we want to start this fund and we want to name it in honour of your dad, and we want you to be part of it'.

"It's been a really fun project to work on. That has become a pretty big passion project for me, listening to these athletes."

Supporters find out more about the fund at keeptheflamealive.org, where the athletes' stories are being shared.

"It's just as much a message of hope," Shiffrin said.

"It's definitely something that gets me out of bed in the morning."

Mikaela SHIFFRIN

United States of America
Alpine Skiing
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Number of medals

3 Olympic medals

2
1

Olympic Games

2 Olympic Games