Mikaela Shiffrin is the tallest — and she has time to get even taller

Last weekend in the Czech Republic, fittingly while most of her compatriots were asleep, Mikaela Shiffrin got closer to ‘resetting’ a 34-year-old record down a snow-blown ski slope when she became the second female alpine skier (male or female). 85 World Cup races to win. After leading the slalom Saturday at the same resort where she made her pro debut 12 years ago, Shiffrin equaled Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup winning record within six-hundredths of a second Sunday.

Not that Shiffrin would have to beat another stopwatch, win another medal, or pop another bottle of champagne to have a legitimate case as the all-time best to slide into the starting blocks. This can already be seen from her complete works – a CV that Shiffrin compiled by the age of 27.

Shiffrin burst onto the pro scene in 2011 as a teenage prodigy, her skills honed by skiing-loving parents on the slopes of Colorado and New England. From Mickey Mouse skis to international mountains, a data-driven approach helped Shiffrin evolve into a transcendent tactician. It has no equal in slalom, a discipline that requires two runs, hairpin turns and dozens of gates to navigate. But the range of Shiffrin’s skills sets her apart: she is the only skier to have won a race in all six World Cup disciplines – combined, downhill, giant slalom, parallel, super-G and slalom. For comparison, Lindsey Vonn won World Cup races in five disciplines, while Stenmark won his 86 World Cup races in just two disciplines.

Shiffrin raced to victory in every discipline

Overall World Cup events, podiums and wins for Mikaela Shiffrin by discipline

discipline events overall podiums podium% wins To win%
slalom 100 74 74.0% 52 52.0%
giant slalom 86 36 41.9 19 22.1
combined 3 1 33.3 1 33.3
Slalom totals 189 111 58.7 72 38.1
Super G 24 10 41.7 5 20.8
Parallel 9 7 77.8 5 55.6
Downhill 19 6 31.6 3 15.8
Non-Slalom Totals 52 23 44.2 13 25.0
grand totals 241 134 55.6 85 35.3

By events of January 29, 2023.

Source: ski-db.com

And World Cup records like this form the backbone of every skier’s aspiration for greatness. When hearing her name, American sports fans may only remember Shiffrin’s two gold medals, which she won at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. But while the Olympics serve as the only opportunity for competitors in many sports to get mainstream coverage, there is a more accurate assessment of a skier’s performance on the global circuit. Each year, the world’s best skiers compete in a five-month World Cup season at events primarily held in Europe. Those who finish in the top 30 at these events earn points toward championships throughout the season, and the best in each discipline compete for an overall title. Shiffrin has contested more than 240 World Cup races in 13 seasons. Their overall performance is stunning: Shiffrin has been on the podium in more than half and won more than a third of those starts. In events involving slalom, Shiffrin made 59 percent of the podium and won 38 percent.

Even as Vonn topped various leaderboards as America’s greatest alpine skier of all time, Shiffrin’s brilliance was widely anticipated. In 2019, my FiveThirtyEight colleague Neil Paine suggested it was only a matter of time before the torch of America’s greatest skier would be passed to Shiffrin. “She’s the best skier that ever lived,” Vonn said in December. But Shiffrin’s success hasn’t always been linear. Just a year ago, she competed in the Beijing Olympics and had the chance to win an unprecedented three gold medals in singles and five medals overall. She went without, an experience that forced her to “question everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality for the past 15 years.”

But in the year after her “amazingly failed” Olympics, Shiffrin has regained her dominant form, winning nine of her last 15 races. In the race for ski racing’s greatest prize, the overall World Cup title, she has a commanding lead of 700 points, which would earn her the fifth overall crown of her career. Despite a close second place finish at Spindleruv over the weekend, Shiffrin pulled off another historic feat as she consolidated her 2023 slalom title with two races remaining. This made Shiffrin the first woman to win seven slalom titles; She has a chance next season to tie Vonn’s record for most individual titles (eight; downhill in Vonn’s case).

Even more impressive is the fact that at 27, Shiffrin may have years to add to her total. Stenmark was 32 when the record was set and Vonn was 33 when she celebrated her last World Cup win. In a dangerous sport, the risk of injury for slalom specialists is far less than for the high-speed downhill enthusiasts. Shiffrin is looking to race for years to come, with her eyes reportedly on the 2026 Olympics in the popular Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo – a place where Shiffrin has won once and been on the podium twice.

“Anything could happen and I could choose to retire,” Shiffrin told NBC Sports. “But I don’t see it happening before that [next] Olympia.”

In a sport where racers carve nearly identical lines in the snow and results are separated by hundredths of a second, Shiffrin has made it a habit to find a unique way to reach the finish line long before her contemporaries. Last weekend’s win came off like so many before it: a wire-to-wire tactical display of angles and speed unrivaled by the field. Hers is a record of sustained dominance across continents and disciplines. Shiffrin will have to wait until the end of the World Championships in late February for her next chance to match Stenmark, but the subtext of the feat – becoming the greatest competitive skier of all time – has already been accomplished.

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