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Rarely do sports fans have the opportunity to watch their favorite athletes transform and mature as they grow up. Even more rare is the chance to observe young women take control of their career’s narrative through the trials and tribulations of being human. The Naomi Osakas, Simone Biles, and Mikaela Shiffrins of the world have more to teach us about resilience and hope in the face of adversity.
By the time the American media spotlight moved on from Olympic coverage to the next big stories in the news cycle, Shiffrin was already back on the podium. A super-G race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland that, a week prior, would have earned Shiffrin an Olympic Silver medal instead marked her 11th podium of the World Cup season. The following weekend in Åre, Sweden, she snagged her 12th podium—a third place in the giant slalom.
Headed into World Cup Finals this week in Courchevel/Meribel, France, Shiffrin remains 56 points ahead of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova in the race for the World Cup overall title. If she were to hang on to her lead over the coming week’s races and capture the overall crystal globe—for the fourth time in her career—Shiffrin would be officially dubbed the most dominant female on the Alpine World Cup Tour in 2022, a ski racer’s highest achievement.
The question is, does Shiffrin have enough gas left in the tank to bring her best skiing to all her events in the coming week? Will she even opt to ski in all four major events in these finals? An appearance by the American powerhouse in the downhill, super G, GS, and slalom are all on the table. And given her strong performance in the downhill training ahead of the final downhill race on March 16 and her fondness for the course, it seems likely she’ll take on a full schedule.
“It’s been a long season, and I can feel the fatigue as it builds up to this week, but somehow, there’s still some energy [left] for these last races,” said Shiffrin after finishing first in the second training on Tuesday, 0.75 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Corinne Suter. “This downhill [course], I actually really like it. I liked it as soon as I saw it during inspection for the first training. It seems like my instinct was to go to the right place so that I didn’t have to think so much.”
Physical energy is not the only obstacle Shiffrin must contend with headed into finals. Mental energy will also play a significant factor in her ability to ski to her standards. And right now, Shiffrin is feeling weary.
Two years ago, the tech races in Åre, Sweden, would have been Shiffrin’s “comeback” races, after taking a break from competing after her father’s unexpected passing in early February of 2020. From there, she would have headed to the 2020 World Cup Finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, to defend the World Cup titles she had claimed the year before. Instead, the coronavirus kick-started a global pandemic, canceling the remainder of the World Cup season. Shiffrin returned home with her mother, Eileen, and the pair joined her brother Taylor in Colorado as the family sought to wade through their collective grief and move forward in the wake of their loss.
Fast-forward to March 13, 2022: Shiffrin’s 27th birthday. Her second birthday without her father, Jeff, by her side. Physically, she was in Sweden, just as she had been two years ago. Mentally, she once again found herself elsewhere, this time in Ukraine, consumed by the consequences of war.
“This question has been haunting me for some time now—how can I even care about ski racing at this point?” she wrote in an Instagram post on March 10. “How can anyone care about anything else until the war is finished and those responsible are held accountable?”
Crisis often begs existential questions. And it’s clear that Shiffrin, in the face of grief, mortality, and her first “global failure” at the Olympics, is still grappling with her place in the world, despite years of self-reflection.
“After more than two years, I still don’t understand how life works,” she wrote. “Why some people live, and some people die, and some people start wars and destroy countries, and some people ski race. [It] feels like I don’t know a single thing.”
This week in Courchevel, Shiffrin will make the push for ski racing glory one last time this season. She’ll fight for the overall crystal globe because she’s an athlete; that’s what she does. After all the trials and tribulations Shiffrin has faced over the past two years, she’s still ready to pick herself up, dust herself off, and try again.
“[Two years ago], a bunch of women on the World Cup circuit signed this special-made bib in honor of my dad. That reminded me that when I look around, no matter how many terrible and ugly and disgusting and depressing things I see, I also see love, and support, and simple acts of caring from friends and competitors and family and strangers that make me think there just might still be some hope for humanity after all.”
“I’ll hang onto that hope cause it’s all that we have to hang on to.”
The 2022 World Cup Finals in Courchevel/Meribel kick off with the men’s and women’s downhill races on Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 a.m. EST. See the full schedule here.