Mikaela Shiffrin's journey to the summit of Alpine skiing
Geneva — From a prodigiously talented 15-year-old to the most decorated female skier of all-time, Mikaela Shiffrin has done quite a lot in only 12 years.
The American skier won her record-tying 86th victory Friday in her 245th race on the World Cup circuit, the globe-trotting competition for the best skiers on the planet. She moved into a tie with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark only weeks after breaking the women’s record of 82 wins held by former teammate Lindsey Vonn.
Shiffrin has also won two Olympic gold medals and one silver, plus seven world championship titles and seven more medals from that biennial competition.
But it is her World Cup career — matching Stenmark’s once mythical total of 86 wins — that has made her arguably the greatest skier in history. Even Stenmark said so in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Shiffrin’s racing career on the World Cup circuit started two days before her 16th birthday in March 2011 in the Czech Republic. Wearing bib No. 46 in a giant slalom, she finished outside the top 30, meaning she didn’t qualify for a second run.
Her first slalom, the discipline she would come to dominate with 52 World Cup wins so far, was the next day and again she finished outside the top 30.
Shiffrin’s first podium came in December 2011. Wearing bib No. 40, she was third behind ski greats Marlies Schild, a childhood idol, and Tina Maze.
The first of her 86 wins — and counting — came one year later in Are, Sweden, on Dec. 20, 2012.
Incredibly, Shiffrin won the World Cup slalom title that season, adding two more wins before a dramatic World Cup Finals race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. A spectacular second run overhauled a 1.17-second lead by Maze, who had a record-setting season but was left distraught after losing to a rival who turned 18 three days earlier.
Shiffrin won five season-long World Cup slalom titles in six seasons. The streak was broken after a December 2015 injury in Are during race warmups.
The inevitable first overall World Cup title came at the age of 22 in the 2016-17 season when Shiffrin won 11 races.
It was the start of three straight titles. The next season included a first downhill win in Lake Louise, Canada — in only her fourth start in the fastest and most dangerous discipline.
Shiffrin won a record 17 races in 2019, tallied 2,204 World Cup points — second only to Maze in skiing history — and got top-five places in all but one of her 26 events.
In January 2020, she looked set for a fourth title, taking a 370-point lead after two speed race wins in Bansko, Bulgaria. Then family tragedy struck.
Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, has always traveled with her in an entourage of coaches and mentors. Her father, Jeff, was a familiar sight at races, readily recognizable with a bushy mustache taking photographs around the finish area.
In February 2020, Jeff Shiffrin died after an accident at the family home in Colorado.
Shiffrin flew home from Europe to begin a grieving process she has been frank and open about. After skipping several weeks of races and losing her lead in the standings, her scheduled return was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended the season.
A foundation to help young skiers was set up in her father’s name, the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency Fund.
Shiffrin then won a fourth overall World Cup title last year, bouncing back from a disappointing showing at the Beijing Olympics. She won a fifth giant crystal globe this month with a lead fueled by 12 victories this season.
At 18, Shiffrin stepped on the Olympic stage like she belonged there.
A fifth-place finish in the giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games preceded a dominating wire-to-wire win in slalom. Shiffrin finished more than a half-second ahead of Schild, the best slalom skier in the world at the time.
Four years later in Pyeongchang, Shiffrin took gold in giant slalom a day before her fourth-place finish in slalom. She later took silver in Alpine combined, a race made up of a downhill run and a slalom run.
Shiffrin was expected to be the star of the 2022 Beijing Olympics with medal hopes in all five women’s events. What happened next was bewildering even to her.
Shiffrin skied out of the giant slalom and slalom within a few seconds of each run, did not truly contend for a medal in downhill and super-G, and failed to finish the slalom in Alpine combined.
“I’m certainly questioning a lot,” Shiffrin said after her fifth failure. “I’m really disappointed. And I’m really frustrated.”
She will still be only 30 when the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics roll around. Women’s races are scheduled for Cortina d’Ampezzo, where she won four medals at the 2021 world championships.
Shiffrin’s first worlds-level race was at the 2011 juniors in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, when she was still only 15. Racing in slalom with a cold, she placed third behind two rivals both four years older.
Starting in 2013, Shiffrin won four straight world titles in slalom. The streak ended with bronze in 2021 in Cortina, but she took home four medals from that event, including gold in Alpine combined.
Her seventh world title came last month in giant slalom in Meribel, France, and she added silvers in slalom and super-G.
In total, she has 14 medals from 17 event at the worlds. The other three results were top-10 finishes in giant slalom as a teenager and a rare error last month in slalom within three gates of a likely gold in combined.