The Story Behind Mikaela Shiffrin's Olympic Comeback

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Alexandra Lozovschi

Eyeing a six-event Olympics in Beijing this February, alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin has already kicked off what will likely be her most important season in recent years with a Slalom victory on January 12 that rounded her World Cup wins in a single discipline to 47.

This will be Shiffrin's third Olympics, with the 26-year-old winning gold at both her previous Games — the Slalom in Sochi, Russia (making history at 18) and the Giant Slalom in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.

As the Washington Post points out, one medal in China next month will tie Shiffrin with Julia Mancuso as the most decorated American female ski racer. Three medals, which the outlet notes is "a distinct possibility, if not an expectation," will have her match Croatia's Janica Kostelic and Sweden's Anja Parson as the most Olympic medals of any women on the slopes.

But Shiffrin's road to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing has not been an easy one, with the six-time World Champ opening up about Olympic pressure and how the loss of her father has affected her performance on the slopes.

Read all about it below.

Her 'Demogorgon'

Speaking candidly about the angst and euphoria surrounding any Olympic season, Shiffrin compared the pressure and anxiety she feels during the two weeks of competing to the Demogorgon, the nightmarish creature from Stranger Things.

"It’s like the Demogorgon is trying to pound in on your house and your brain and everything," she described the feeling to the Washington Post in a September 2021 interview. "You’re trying your best to keep it out and keep away from that pressure because it’s a really, really uncomfortable place to be.”

Shiffrin, who has since talked about her mental preparation for the Olympics at length, tells the outlet that the main way to keep the Demogorgon at bay is to shut out all the noise and block out all distractions.

“I don’t want to listen to the pressure. I don’t want to listen to the expectations. I don’t want to hear what other people are saying. I just want to block it out completely," said the athlete, confessing: “I felt a way in South Korea that I never, ever wanted to feel again in my skiing career.”

The two-time Olympic Gold Medalist continued: “To an extent, that can work. But at the Olympics, it really rarely does. Like, you cannot limit distractions 100 percent. You kind of can’t limit distractions at all.”


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Preparing For Beijing

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Before the 2022 Winter Games roll around, Shiffrin is focusing on the World Cup. The Olympic skier is trying for the overall champion title for a fourth time in her career after last snagging it in 2019. However, her eyes are constantly on the Olympic prize, as she physically and mentally prepares for Beijing.

“I’m kind of accepting and trying to prepare for basically the discomfort of the one situation that you hope would be this joyous, amazing event,” shared Shiffrin, who boasts 69 World Cup wins.

The Olympian added: “What people see is the pictures with the Olympic rings, and ‘We went to the Opening Ceremonies!’ and ‘Look at these cool outfits! This is such a fun time. This is so great!’ But honestly, it’s terrifying for the entire two weeks straight.”

Loss & Grief

Shiffrin's success at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics was followed by a less-than-bright 2020-21 season as the untimely death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, in February 2020 inevitably impacted her performance, notes the Washington Post.

“It broke my heart to see her just despondent every day,” her mother, Eileen Shiffrin, told the outlet. “Really, it’s like somebody just takes a knife and stabs you right in the heart, and it didn’t seem to be healing at all.”

Shiffrin opened up about her grief, as well: “Probably the most important thing that I’ve learned is how much grief is — first of all, it’s not linear at all and how exhausting it is."

The three-time overall World Cup champion further explained: “It takes all of your physical and mental and emotional energy in the beginning just to wake up and get out of bed. And then to get through half a day without completely breaking down. Or to read an email or to think his name or to remind yourself that when the door opens and closes, that’s actually not him coming through the door anymore.”

The Olympic skier, who has set up the Jeff Shiffrin Athlete Resiliency fund in honor of her dad, talked about how resilience helped her cope with the loss on Instagram back in September 2020.

See her post below.

The Comeback

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Following the devastating loss of her father, Shiffrin's performance in the 2020-21 season was greatly outshined by her accomplishments in the previous season. As the Washington Post remarks, she made 16 World Cup starts, scored three wins, and had seven other podium finishes. By comparison, the 2018-19 season brought her 25 starts, an "astonishing" 17 wins, two seconds, and two thirds.

Despite everything, Shiffrin presses on toward Beijing 2022 with her mother by her side.

“Last year was essentially a return from injury,” Mike Day, her coach with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, said in a statement, noting that things are different in 2022.

“Our preparation has been far better than it was a year ago,” he continued. “Her fitness levels are as high or higher than they’ve ever been. I feel like she’s coming back to a little bit more normalcy with the quality of skiing and volume of skiing and the focus as well.”

As for Shiffrin, she's going to Beijing "with a really open mind."

“I try to be a realistic person. So as much as I would love the Olympics to be a two-week, fun, incredible experience, and I get everything I want out of it," she said, "even if it’s incredibly successful results-wise, it’s still not going to be the most fun, enjoyable time ever."

"There are going to be incredible moments, and there are going to be really hard moments," she explained. "That’s kind of the realism. That is what‘s going to happen. So to try to convince myself of anything else, it’s like being in denial before the event actually happens."