Second to none.
Mikaela Shiffrin matched Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record for World Cup wins on Friday with her 86th victory. The win came in a giant slalom in Are, Sweden, the site of Shiffrin’s very first World Cup victory and Stenmark’s home country.
Shiffrin’s first run all but assured this would be the day she’d catch Stenmark. Using her traditional fast start and skiing with elegant aggression, Shiffrin took a 0.58-second lead into the second run with only two skiers within a second of her.
The two skiers in front of her couldn’t make a serious run at her, with Franziska Gritsch skiing out and Valerie Grenier making a big mistake on the upper part of the course that took her out of contention. That meant Shiffrin just needed a smooth and controlled run and that’s exactly what she did.
As she crossed the finish line, the crowd erupted. Shiffrin put her hands on her helmet and the look on her face seemed to be one of disbelief. She finished 0.64 seconds ahead of Italy’s Federica Brignone.
“I don’t feel a lot of pressure to get this record,” Shiffrin said Jan. 28, after getting her 85th win in a slalom race in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic. “Now I’m so close it’s like, just take a breath and enjoy the moments we’re in now. It’s unbelievable to me how the season has gone already and I’m trying to take the moment to enjoy it.”
She could surpass the Swedish legend still this weekend, with a slalom race Saturday. Of Shiffrin’s 86 World Cup wins, 52 are in slalom and 20 are in giant slalom.
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A mark once thought untouchable
Stenmark’s record was considered unbeatable when he set it in 1989. Now Shiffrin is not only on the verge of breaking it, most – Stenmark included — are expecting she could have more than 100 wins by the time her career ends.
“I think she can win more than 100,” Stenmark told The Associated Press last month. “It depends on how many years she continues. But for sure 100.”
What has made Shiffrin’s assault on the record books so impressive is both the speed and versatility with which she’s done it. She turns 28 on Monday; Stenmark was 32 when he won his last World Cup race while fellow American Lindsey Vonn, who previously held the mark for most wins by a woman, was 33.
And unlike Stenmark, whose wins were all in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom, Shiffrin’s wins have come in every discipline. In addition to slalom and GS, she has won five World Cup races in super-G, three in downhill, three in city events, two in parallel slalom and one in Alpine combined.
Shiffrin also won a silver in super-G at last month’s world championships, along with the gold in GS and a silver in slalom.
“I’m also impressed that she can ski good both in slalom and in super-G and downhill also,” Stenmark told the AP. “I could never have been so good in all disciplines.”
But Shiffrin said in January there’s no reason to try and compare her with Stenmark. Or with anyone else.
“That’s the whole beauty of sports and the magic of it is that you can dispute (who is the greatest) because people value different things,” Shiffrin said. “There will be plenty of people who don’t care what I achieve. Because they believe Ingemar is the greatest, they believe Marcel Hirscher is the greatest, they believe Lindsey is the greatest. So their legacies will always remain intact and they’ll always remain a part of ski racing history because of that.
“The greatest accomplishment is to be part of that conversation,” Shiffrin added. “I’m not so worried about nitpicking the numbers because I don’t think it really makes a difference.”
More to Shiffrin’s season than record
The pursuit of Stenmark’s record has obscured what has been one of the most impressive seasons of Shiffrin’s career. Friday’s win was her 12th this season, matching the second-most of her career. She won a record 17 World Cup races in 2019.
She has already clinched her fifth overall season title, leaving her one behind Annemarie Moser-Proell’s record for women. Shiffrin long ago wrapped up the slalom globe, and Friday’s win gives her the GS title, too.
She also won three medals at the world championships last month, including a gold in giant slalom.
Rebound after Beijing
All of this comes a year after the low point in Shiffrin’s career.
A two-time Olympic champion before her 23rd birthday, Shiffrin was expected to collect a haul of medals at last year’s Beijing Games. Instead, she came home empty-handed, recording DNFs in three of her five individual races.
“I’m not going to fail bigger than that. Probably. And I survived it,” Shiffrin said earlier this week. “I realized that pretty much everything is survivable. Everything that is going to happen in my ski career is fully survivable. No matter what it is, whether it’s great or it’s terrible, it’s just not the end of the world. There’s bigger things that happen in life. And I’ve experienced it.”
She was referring to the sudden death of her father, Jeff, in February 2020. Shiffrin has been open about how unmoored she was by her grief, and she remains surrounded by memories of him. After getting her 85th win in Spindleruv Mlyn in January, she recalled her father being alongside her the first time she went there for what was her first World Cup race.
But she’s finally able to see past her grief, and look forward to other things in her life. If that means more wins and records, great.
If not, that’s fine, too.
“I want to ski well and I’m not done so of course I want to win another race,” she said. “But if it doesn’t happen, boo hoo. Cry about it, don’t. People are not going to care about it in like 30 minutes. Better just enjoy what I’m doing now and hopefully it’s meaningful to me and meaningful to somebody out there.”