Mikaela Shiffrin Is The Greatest — And She Has Time To Become Even Greater
Last weekend in the Czech Republic, appropriately as most of her countrymen and women slept, Mikaela Shiffrin moved one snow-propelled ski run closer to “resetting” a 34-year-old record when she became the second alpine skier (male or female) to win 85 World Cup races. After topping the slalom Saturday at the same resort where she made her professional debut 12 years ago, Shiffrin then came within six-hundredths of a second Sunday of matching the all-time record for World Cup victories, set by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.
Not that Shiffrin needed to vanquish another stopwatch, claim another medal or pop another bottle of Champagne to have a legitimate case as the best ever to glide into the starting blocks. That is already apparent from her overall body of work — a resume Shiffrin has compiled by age 27.
Shiffrin emerged on the professional circuit in 2011 as a teenage prodigy, her abilities honed by ski-obsessed parents on Colorado and New England slopes. From Mickey Mouse skis to international mountains, a data-driven approach helped Shiffrin develop into a transcendent tactician. She is unparalleled in the slalom, a discipline that requires two runs, hairpin turns and dozens of gates to navigate. But the breadth of Shiffrin’s skill set is what sets her apart: She stands as the only skier to win a race in all six World Cup disciplines — combined, downhill, giant slalom, parallel, super-G and slalom. For comparison, Lindsey Vonn won World Cup events in five disciplines, while Stenmark won his 86 World Cup races across only two disciplines.1
Shiffrin has sped to victory in every discipline
Total World Cup events, podiums and wins for Mikaela Shiffrin by discipline
And such World Cup records form the backbone of any skier’s claim to greatness. When they hear her name, American sports fans might only remember Shiffrin’s pair of gold medals, which she won at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. But while the Olympics serve as the lone opportunity for competitors in numerous sports to garner mainstream coverage, a more accurate appraisal of a skier’s performance is found on the global circuit. Each year, the best skiers on Earth compete in a five-month World Cup season in events that are mostly hosted in Europe. Those who finish in the top 30 at these events earn points toward seasonlong championships, and the best in each discipline contend for an overall title. Shiffrin has competed in more than 240 World Cup races over 13 seasons. Her aggregate performance is staggering: Shiffrin has podiumed in more than half and won more than a third of those starts. In events that involve slalom2, Shiffrin has podiumed in 59 percent and won 38 percent.
Even as Vonn rocketed up various leaderboards as the greatest American alpine skier of all time, Shiffrin’s brilliance was widely anticipated. Back in 2019, my FiveThirtyEight colleague Neil Paine suggested that it was only a matter of time before the torch of greatest American skier was passed to Shiffrin. “She’s the best skier who has ever lived,” Vonn said in December. But Shiffrin’s success hasn’t always been linear. It was only a year ago that she entered the Beijing Olympics with the chance to win an unprecedented three individual gold medals and five medals overall. She left without any, an experience that forced her to “second-guess, like, the last 15 years, everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality.”
But in the year following her “fantastically failed” Olympics, Shiffrin has reclaimed her dominant form, winning nine of her last 15 races. She has a commanding 700-point lead in the race for the biggest prize in ski racing, the World Cup overall title, which would give her her fifth career overall crown. Despite a narrow second-place finish in Spindleruv over the weekend, Shiffrin accomplished another historic feat when she cemented her 2023 slalom title with two races still on the schedule. With it, Shiffrin became the first woman to bank seven slalom titles; she’ll have a chance to tie Vonn’s record for most titles in single discipline (eight; in Vonn’s case, in downhill) next season.
More impressive is the reality that, at 27, Shiffrin potentially has years to add to her total.3 Stenmark was 32 when the record was set, and Vonn was 33 when she earned her final World Cup victory. In a perilous sport, injury risk is substantially lower for slalom specialists than it is for the high-speed downhill enthusiasts.4 Shiffrin figures to race for years to come, with her eyes reportedly trained on the 2026 Olympics at the well-known Cortina d’Ampezzo Italian resort — a place where Shiffrin has won once and podiumed twice.
“Anything could happen, and I could decide to retire,” Shiffrin told NBC Sports. “But I don’t see it happening before the [next] Olympics.”
In a sport where racers carve near identical lines in the snow and results are separated by hundredths of a second, Shiffrin has made a habit of charting a unique path to reach the finish line well before her contemporaries. Last weekend’s win materialized like so many others before it: a wire-to-wire tactical exhibition of angles and velocity unmatched by the field. Hers is a record of sustained dominance across continents and disciplines. Shiffrin will need to wait until the World Championships conclude 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.