A little less than a year ago, Mikaela Shiffrin was stuck in an Olympic nightmare.
On Tuesday, she cemented her place in skiing history.
The 27-year-old Shiffrin broke fellow American Lindsey Vonn’s record for World Cup victories by a female skier with her 83rd win. She will now set her sights on the all-gender record of 86 victories, set by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark.
Shiffrin got the women’s record just over two weeks after matching it – continuing an incredible run of form that has left her towering over her peers in the sport. This was her ninth World Cup victory of the season, and her seventh win in her last 11 races.
And she did it in dominant fashion, winning both runs of the giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy. When she crossed the finish line after the second run, Shiffrin briefly bent over before standing up and pumping her fist at the crowd.
“I don’t know what to say right now,” Shiffrin said, clearly overwhelmed by the moment.
But she was all smiles during the victory ceremony, laughing as she was presented with a large gold crown.
Shiffrin finished 0.45 seconds ahead of Lara Gut-Behrami, a significant margin. The Swiss skier and Italy’s Federica Brignone, who were second and third respectively, applauded Shiffrin and then exchanged hugs with her.
A four-time overall World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shiffrin matched Vonn’s record with a GS win in Slovenia on Jan. 8. She was second in her first attempt at the record, a slalom in Flachau, Austria, two days later, and flirted with it over the weekend on the 2026 Olympic course in Cortina, Italy, finishing fourth in a downhill Friday and seventh in both a second downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday.
But Shiffrin’s best chances were always going to come this week, with two giant slalom races and another two in slalom. Of Shiffrin’s World Cup victories, 51 have come in slalom and another 17 in giant slalom.
Sure enough, Shiffrin came out blistering in the first run. She has been unbeatable out of the gate this season, and this race was no different as she opened up a lead of 0.20 seconds in the first section of the Erta course, which was set by her coach, Mike Day.
Shiffrin gave back a little bit of the lead on the next two sections before closing strong. She gave a couple small pumps of her fist as she crossed the finish line, then waited to see if her lead would hold up. It did, and Shiffrin took a 0.13 lead over Gut-Behrami into the second run.
Her closest rivals didn’t make it easy on her. Brignone and Gut-Behrami laid down fast runs on a course that had tripped up several earlier skiers, and Shiffrin would have to ski aggressive if she wanted the record.
She did, starting fast and holding a tight line for the rest of the run. As she crossed the finish line, there was no doubt that the record was now hers.
86 is the next record in sight
Next up now is Stenmark’s record, and she could get to 86 wins in short order. There’s another giant slalom in Kronplatz on Wednesday, followed by a pair of slaloms in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, this weekend.
“I definitely don’t feel like I have a deadline,” Shiffrin said in an interview provided by her publicist ahead of the Jan. 10 slalom in Flachau, Austria, her first race after tying Vonn.
“I’m not writing, taking notes on what my next goal is. That’s not why I keep going out and train,” she added. “And hopefully that means if I get to the next record, it’s not all just going to come falling down. Hopefully my motivation is not going to just stop. I really hope that I don’t feel like, `That’s it’ and I don’t want to keep going and pushing and trying.”
But there will always be something else to chase. Already, there has been talk about whether – or when — Shiffrin can get to 100 World Cup victories, a mark that once seemed unfathomable.
Vonn, who retired in 2019, told a German newspaper last month that Shiffrin “is the best skier that has ever lived, in my eyes.”
“It’s a sign of progress,” Vonn said in a separate interview with The Associated Press earlier this week. “And if anyone is to break my record, I’m really happy that it’s an American.
“She’s going to continue pushing the limits and continue to inspire other Americans. There were a lot of women who paved the way for me. And now it’s her turn to pave the way for the next generation.”
For Shiffrin, ‘the sky’s the limit,’ Vonn says
Shiffrin has been on a tear this season and, with nine World Cup wins already, is almost certain of reaching double digits for a fourth time in her career. At one point, she won five events in a row – the type of streak that is almost unheard of in the upper echelons of Alpine skiing, where events often come down to fractions of a second.
“I don’t think I can compare my shape right now to any time before,” Shiffrin said Saturday after the second downhill in Cortina. “For sure I’ve been very strong in seasons before, but right now, maybe for the first time, I’m not trying to go back to something I did before. I’m trying to just do what I need now to ski my fastest every day.
“But I’m in very good shape and then a lot of puzzle pieces fit well, for sure.”
Shiffrin’s season has been remarkable by any measure, but even more so given her struggles at the 2022 Beijing Olympics just 11 months ago.
One of Team USA’s most dynamic stars, Shiffrin arrived at the Games with hopes of competing in five events and winning perhaps as many medals. Instead, it was a disaster. She not only failed to medal, but also failed to finish three of her five individual events – an unfathomable collapse that she still couldn’t explain or understand months later.
“(People) want some kind of answer. And I genuinely don’t have one,” Shiffrin wrote in The Players’ Tribune of her performance in Beijing. “I could give you the media answer that I always give. I could put on a brave face and tell you some generic thing. But the real truth is… I don’t know.”
Upon her return from the Olympics, though, Shiffrin has returned to her usual level of dominance and zoomed past Vonn’s record. She had always been expected to break the mark, but this soon?
“For her, the sky’s the limit,” Vonn told The Associated Press. “I don’t think that Stenmark is necessarily the benchmark. She’s going to set the new standard and we’ll just have to wait and see how high she’s able to go.”
Vonn was 34 when she retired from the sport, plagued and frustrated by injuries at the end of a storied career. Shiffrin won’t turn 28 until March. With luck and good health, she’ll still have dozens of World Cup events ahead of her – more records to break, and metaphorical mountains to conquer.
Contributing: The Associated Press