It is not true that Mikaela Shiffrin has won every ski race she has entered this winter. It just seems that way.
Shiffrin has won so often, in fact, that when she skips a race, or two, it spawns a minor contretemps.
In Sweden last week, Shiffrin won her fourth gold medal at the world ski championships with a breakthrough victory in the super-G. But she also bypassed another event, the Alpine combined, where she would have been the favorite.
Afterward, two of skiing’s superstars, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, both of whom Shiffrin idolized as a child, questioned her decision not to race.
“She could have won everything,” Vonn told The Associated Press. “I’m a racer and I want to race in every single race that I possibly can.”
Vonn, who in the final event of her career Sunday was third in the women’s downhill, added: “So I don’t personally understand it.”
Miller, too, said that he would like to see Shiffrin race more often.
“But it’s different strokes different folks,” Miller said.
Shiffrin, in a telephone interview on Sunday from Norway, where she has been training for this week’s giant slalom and slalom races at the world championships, said her race choices were part of a meticulous plan.
“I would love to race in every single race; there’s always that temptation,” said Shiffrin, who has won 14 times this season, including victories in 12 of her last 15 races. “But I have to do what my body can handle — to go to the limit, but not beyond it.”
This less-is-more approach was born during last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, she said, when she was a contender in as many as five events and won two medals, a gold and a silver.
That showing was certainly not a disappointment, but a condensed event schedule brought on by weather delays left Shiffrin fatigued and overwrought.
“The Olympics in Korea, and the weeks leading up to it, were a huge learning lesson,” Shiffrin, 23, said. “It’s always in the back of my mind. There are a lot of athletes who race in everything, but they get to a point where they’re just exhausted and kind of burned out.”
Shiffrin related an exchange she had in 2014 with Tina Maze, the now retired Slovenian Alpine champion who that year set the record for most overall World Cup points with a grueling, race-intensive schedule.
“After the last races, Tina looked me in the eye and said: ‘Don’t do this,’” Shiffrin said. “I considered her an inspiration and I wanted to do what she did one day. She said, ‘This one season alone may ruin me.’ And I’ve never forgotten that.”
One of Shiffrin’s coaches, Mike Day, recognizes that some in the ski community want to see Shiffrin race more often.
“I fully understand that from an entertainment standpoint they want to see her compete,” Day said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “But the results have clearly shown that this approach is the right approach for her.”
Shiffrin, who for most of her career specialized in the shorter, technical events of giant slalom and slalom, has dramatically branched out this season with stunning, impressive performances in the more daredevil super-G, which is considered a speed event along with the downhill.
Shiffrin won the first super-G of her career Dec. 2 in Alberta, Canada, and has since gone undefeated in the event, a win streak she extended to four races with her world championship victory last week. Shiffrin also leads the season-long World Cup point standings in giant slalom, slalom and super-G.
She has a nearly insurmountable lead in the chase for the women’s overall World Cup title, which she has won the last two seasons. Her 56 World Cup victories are the fifth most in history (they are 30 short of the record by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who retired in 1989 a month before his 33rd birthday.)
Day said Shiffrin has competed in almost every race that her team of coaches, which includes Jeff Lackie and Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, expected her to enter when the plan for 2018-19 was devised in October. Shiffrin has remained on schedule despite a minor back injury first sustained in December.
“We’re managing it,” Shiffrin said of the injury. “I think everybody races with some kind of pain.”
Overall, Shiffrin called this season the most enjoyable of her career and for that she credited a conversation she had last summer with Roger Federer. At functions where the two have appeared, Shiffrin said Federer told her that he wished he had spent more time during his prime relishing the victories instead of remaining doggedly focused on the next match or tournament.
Shiffrin has been known to remain fixated in a competitive bubble rather than commemorating her accomplishments as they occur.
Or, as Day said: “A year ago, we ranked the worst in the world when it came to celebrating victories.”
Shiffrin said that has changed.
“We go out and have a nice team dinner,” she said. “We laugh about the day. I think keeping things more lighthearted has actually led to more success.
“We’ll talk about what went well before getting into nit-picking the things I could have done better.”
“We’ll still do that the next day,” she said. “But we enjoy the race first.”