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Countdown to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games

A Letter from Olympic and World Champion Shiffrin: Thank you, Cortina 2021

By Mikaela Shiffrin
February, 26 2021
Mikaela Shiffrin Reflects on Worlds
Two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Mikaela Shiffrin reflects on her and the U.S. Ski Team's success at Cortina 2021 and mentality going into the event, with a thoughtful note and words from the heart. (Getty Images - Michael Kappeler)

Hi everyone…

I’ve been reflecting on the past few weeks and the 2021 World Championships in Cortina. First, I want to say huge congrats to Cortina for pulling off a World Championship event during such a challenging time, in the midst of a pandemic. Mother Nature wasn’t kind the first few days, but from then on, the event was incredible and it was blue skies and sunshine every day. One thing the world knows though is that Cortina is unparalleled in its ability to prepare a race hill for a race. 

Cortina felt like a great choice for a big event like World Champs or Olympics because of the beautiful and relatively stable weather, but sooner or later every ski resort is bound to get snow. Yet, no matter how much snow is thrown at Cortina, the hill crew always seems to work miracles to transform the surface into something safe and good for racing. THANK YOU to everyone involved in the hill prep, in any way, from slipping to watering, to grooming, for the high standard you always set at world-class races. It’s hard to beat the beauty of Cortina when the weather is the usual gorgeous, sunny, relaxing, alpine atmosphere. 

One year ago we weren’t sure this event would even happen. And, even still, we had our concerns with the pandemic and how it would play out. I felt safe, considering the required negative Covid test to enter the event, and the mandatory testing every third day for anyone who set foot in Cortina, it was like being in one big Covid-negative community. We were impressed by Cortina’s rules for and enforcement of the strict measures we know help prevent the spread of Covid (should someone have ended up positive). With staff around everywhere to enforce the required mask-wearing, people mostly distancing, and hand sanitizer everywhere we turned, Cortina took the measures needed to keep us safe and pull off the World Championship event. It seems that there were no Covid cases coming out of this race series which is impressive for the magnitude of this event. KUDOS to Cortina for being a model of how to execute a large-scale sports event the right way during a time of the pandemic. 

I have received so many messages from friends, family, and followers saying how grateful they have been to have sports and specifically alpine skiing to watch and cheer for during otherwise very difficult times. Being able to watch the sports you love can be such a good thing for mental health so THANK YOU Cortina for giving our ski fans this mental escape and a chance to see your beautiful views and unforgettable moments. 

Finally, I wanted to share my thoughts on my skiing at Worlds, the thought process that went into deciding which events I entered, my emotional state, and also give a bit of hope to those of you struggling through this difficult time. 

A little over a year ago, I actually wasn’t sure I would ever race again after my world had been turned upside down from my dad’s unexpected accident and passing. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t sleep or eat, and I couldn’t stop crying for months until I literally had no more tears to shed. I was scared to death about so many unknowns in the future and had no idea how to go about tackling it all. Through that time, as much as I wanted to lie in bed and never get up again, I had no choice but to drag myself out of bed and try to set emotions aside. 

Through a fog of grief and the shock of losing part of my heart, someone I adored beyond words, I had to somewhat robotically learn how to take over all of the business my life entails these days- the business my dad always took care of for me so that I could focus on my job. I didn’t have a choice but to find a way to piece things back together, one 15-hour day at a time with my brother and my mom by side doing the same. 

I abandoned half of my 2020 ski season and most of my 2020-21 prep-period to spend all day, every day during the summertime at my desk. With the massive help and oversight of our family office, Aspen Grove, and the enormous support and love of friends, family (and just about everyone in our Valley), my mom and I got to the point of thinking that I might actually be able to race this season. As a result of all the long days of crash-course learning all that makes up life and the “business” of my ski career, and the insistence of our support system that I would be ok (they would see to it that I would be ok), I was able to “set sail” for Soelden in September to start the season “on time”. Unfortunately, I injured my back within days of arrival which was not only another setback but was the first injury I’ve had that actually posed some threat to my career as a ski racer and left me reeling mentally and emotionally all over again. All of this on top of the cloud of fear, stress, and frustration (that I’m sure anybody reading this is very familiar with...) from a pandemic that has been unlike anything the world has ever really seen before. The mere thought of leaving home to go get groceries seemed a potentially life-threatening ordeal, but the thought of flying to Europe and trying to navigate our way through a World Cup season felt like a journey into a black hole. All of these things just kept piling up and for quite some time I’ve felt like I’m in an all-out sprint just trying to catch up, with my coaches and serviceman doing everything they possibly can (like they always do) to get me there, but still feeling challenged every step of the way just to simply not feel like we’re still falling behind. 

Truth be told, my feeling about my skiing and my confidence at races before Cortina was not great...it was up and down and kind of reflected my year as a whole. But, I started feeling some happiness and exhilaration when we broke out the super-G skis again just prior to World Champs. It was the first time I had done any speed since I won last year in Bansko and it felt SO wonderful that my team and I really started to consider the option of doing more events than just Giant Slalom and Slalom at Worlds. I felt that if I focused on only GS and SL – having shown some solid skiing in both at times this season on the World Cup – I had a reasonable chance for “success” in both events. But with the skiing I was doing in super-G, we felt that I actually might have had a shot for a medal in four events...and how cool would that be to step outside my usual comfort zone to take a bit of a different journey in Cortina?

Those of you who have been following my journey know that I don’t often pay attention to the records, and I certainly don’t focus on them. However, often titles do come into play when we are planning my racing schedule, especially at a big event. As a team, we created a strategy for this World Champs based on the following: being the youngest Olympic SL gold medalist in history and having Olympic gold in GS, four World Championship golds in SL, six SL globes, and a GS globe, and then diving headfirst into this past year which just wreaked havoc on every single thing I ever considered normal or comfortable, it seemed quite in keeping with the direction my life has taken to do this World Champs differently because, well why not, right? I know that if I only skied GS and SL and won the gold in SL again, people/the press would ask why I didn’t do more events. I also knew that if I took a chance on more events, I would be pushing the limit on my chances/ability to win gold in any of them and if I missed gold in slalom, I would likely be criticized for that too. 

It’s hard to see from the outside, but in my experience, it is about two times more challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally to compete in two times more events. And it is exponentially more challenging to spend the necessary time preparing for those events when they end up being unforeseeably postponed, forcing you to then use up your other essential training days for when the races are rescheduled. (I think it’s important to note here that I was not the only athlete facing those schedule challenges. Honestly, I wasn’t even the only athlete who had a reasonable shot at four medals. Quite a few athletes went into World Champs with the hope and possibility of winning multiple medals and were left wanting. For those who attempted to race in the beginning and had to deal with the weather postponements, I think the extra challenge those schedule changes created should not be overlooked by anyone on the outside who may feel the need to pass judgments on which athletes did or did not win a medal and whose performances qualify as a success or failure.)

Anyway, back to the point– I need to thank my coaches for supporting whichever direction I chose to go. We all decided to go for more medals, knowing there was always the possibility that I could walk away with nothing. I don’t regret that decision in the slightest. As it was, I showed the skiing I was doing in training and the speed it would have taken to win the super-G before my mistake on the very bottom, I was only a hair from winning the GS at .02 seconds behind in very tricky conditions, and we DID win gold in the AC, which I am really proud of. As far as slalom goes, truthfully, I was disappointed with my skiing as I don’t think it was reflective of either my current skiing or my team's efforts to provide the absolute best and most efficient preparation to give me a shot at the slalom gold. BUT, I said it after the super-G and I’ll say it again now, I don’t want to play the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” game. What happened is what happened and I can only learn from it and try to do better in the future. AND in fairness, Katharina and Petra skied really well and on Saturday my skiing was just not up to par. So, I ended up with a bronze, but more importantly, I found reasons to smile and had some moments of joy during the day, and if I learned anything over the last year I learned just how important those things truly are.

The journey we had in Cortina and the prep leading up to it is a reflection on the resilience of my whole team who have stood by me and helped me rise up out of the “ashes of despair” and take a chance on possibilities. I am so appreciative and proud of the people around me for supporting me to the point where we could win the most medals at a World Championships in the modern era. I am thrilled with my overall performance BUT I am also thrilled with the skiing from our entire men’s and women’s team. (i.e. our slalom boys cooking it into the top 15 after the decision to only flip 15 instead of the usual 30 was made the night before their race; Paula being just off the podium in the parallel event after her podium earlier this season in PGS; Nina holding the green light to the very last split in the second run of the GS, nearly winning a medal which very well might have been gold; Breezy putting down such a spectacular DH run after a bobble at the top that would have shaken even the most unshakeable of DH veterans; River with a top-10 in parallel and stepping up as the lone American in the GS with 11th; many of our athletes posting personal bests and no matter what always showing a great attitude and support for each other; the list goes on…) The USA brought excitement and speed in every event and it was sooooo cool seeing our young guns right in the mix, showing sooo much speed and potential for the future. 

So, in the end, Cortina was the start of a new beginning and exploring a different strategic approach with some risk-taking for me and I think the USA showed it’s the beginning of a whole new era of young skiers where the world could very well be their oyster.

Thank you so much for your support. 

Love, 
Mikaela