An on-fire Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 80th World Cup win (her 50th in slalom), moving two shy of Lindsey Vonn‘s female career record of 82 World Cup victories.
Shiffrin completed a three-race sweep in Semmering, Austria, by taking a slalom by .29 of a second over Minnesotan Paula Moltzan combining times from two runs Thursday night. That came after giant slalom victories on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It was the first U.S. one-two in an Alpine skiing World Cup race in eight years. Shiffrin, with her 127th career World Cup podium, was joined in the top three by another American for the second time in her career (and first time in a U.S. one-two). Moltzan, who at 28 is one year older than Shiffrin, made her second career World Cup podium.
“The coolest thing about tonight was coming into the finish and seeing Paula,” Shiffrin said. “I never experienced something like that.”
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After coming to a stop in the finish area, the victorious Shiffrin tossed aside her ski poles and quickly glided to Moltzan. They both let out a scream and hugged. “80! Holy s—!,” Moltzan yelled as they looked into each other’s eyes.
“I don’t have any thoughts yet. I’m still working on the words,” Moltzan said on Austrian TV station ORF. “It’s been a bunch of baby steps leading to this point. … We’re making history while Mikaela’s making history.”
Moltzan, who went to college after being dropped from the national team, became the first American other than Shiffrin to make a World Cup slalom podium since Resi Stiegler in March 2012, when Shiffrin had just one World Cup slalom podium. Shiffrin now has 70 World Cup slalom podiums.
“Paula had a ripping run. I saw it from the start. I was like, she might win this race,” Shiffrin said of Moltzan, who was third after the first run and had a faster second run than first-run leader Shiffrin. “It is so special to share a podium with her. I don’t have much to say about 80 [wins] yet. I don’t know what to say.”
Shiffrin is on a four-race win streak overall, her best run since her record 17-win 2018-19 season.
She can tie Vonn’s record as early as next week with slaloms on Wednesday and Thursday in Zagreb, Croatia, where she owns four previous victories.
Ingemar Stenmark, a Swedish legend of the 1970s and ’80s, holds the overall record of 86 World Cup wins.
This season, Shiffrin has six victories in 12 starts, taking a commanding 369-point lead in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Shiffrin won her fourth overall title last season.
The World Cup season, which is through 15 of 39 scheduled races, runs into late March with a break in February for the world championships in France.
Shiffrin was asked on Austrian TV what her wishes are for 2023.
“To be honest, I stopped wishing for things about three years ago,” said Shiffrin, whose father, Jeff, died on Feb. 2, 2020. “I’m here for the skiing, and being able to do it with a teammate, with many teammates, and an amazing crowd and amazing people around, I couldn’t even dare to wish for that, but we’re getting it, and it’s amazing.
“After everything that’s happened in life, personally and athletically, it’s just amazing to still be part of days like this.”
LAYDEN: With career records in view, Shiffrin knows nothing is promised
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Burning questions in Olympic sports for 2023, when athletes start qualifying for the 2024 Paris Games …
How many Olympic all-around gold medalists will return?
Suni Lee competed strictly in NCAA gymnastics since winning the Tokyo Olympic all-around, but she announced last month that this sophomore season will be her last for the Auburn Tigers. Lee plans to return to elite, Olympic-level gymnastics after this winter. She hasn’t announced her comeback meet, but she has plenty of time ahead of the most significant domestic competitions in August.
Meanwhile, Simone Biles said in September that she plans to be at the Paris Olympics. She just has to decide whether that will be as an athlete or a spectator. Biles hasn’t provided further updates since but, as of the third quarter of this year, was still getting drug tested. That’s significant because if Biles does not withdraw her name from the testing pool, she is excused from the six-month waiting period to return to competition for athletes who leave and then re-enter the testing pool.
Then there’s 2012 Olympic all-around champ Gabby Douglas. She last competed at the 2016 Rio Games, but reports — and a photo — from this fall indicated she has been training at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas, which produced Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin and reigning U.S. all-around champion Konnor McClain. Douglas hasn’t commented publicly, and her representative said Wednesday there is nothing new to report.
What will Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone race?
For the first time, McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the world championships as a reigning gold medalist. That means she can race the 400m hurdles at August’s worlds in Budapest without entering the event at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July. Athletes with byes sometimes compete in other events at nationals. Mix that with her comments from this fall that she wants to add the flat 400m to her program — but not give up the hurdles, yet at least — and we have our burning question.
When McLaughlin-Levrone made those fall comments, no concrete decision had been made about a possible 400m/400m hurdles double bid in 2023 (or 2024). At worlds, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.
The Olympic schedule is accommodating as ever for a possible women’s 400m/400m hurdles double in 2024 (no woman has ever earned a medal in both races at one Olympics or worlds). For the first time in Olympic history, none of the rounds of those races take place on the same day at the Games. But doing both through the finals would still be a challenge: racing six consecutive days at the Olympics (and a seventh day at the end if adding the 4x400m relay).
ON HER TURF: Top women’s sports storylines to follow in 2023
Will Caeleb Dressel compete in 2023, and if so, when?
Dressel, who won five golds at the Tokyo Games, withdrew on unspecified medical grounds during June’s world championships after winning his first two finals. He hasn’t competed since and last provided an update on Sept. 4, saying he was happy, had not swum since worlds and missed swimming. He ended the social media post with the line, “I’ll be back.”
The next major meet is the U.S. Championships from June 27-July 1, the qualifying meet for the world championships in Japan later in July. In Dressel’s absence, Olympic 200m fly champion Kristof Milak became the new world champion in the 100m fly, where Dressel holds the world record. In the 100m freestyle, where Dressel had been the world’s fastest man outside of the super-suit era, 18-year-old Romanian David Popovici won the world title and then broke the world record.
Is Katie Ledecky headed for a Race of the Century?
Swimming worlds may also produce the most anticipated head-to-head-to-head race in 18 years. The women’s 400m freestyle could pit Ledecky (reigning world champion) against Australian Ariarne Titmus (reigning Olympic champion) and 16-year-old Canadian phenom Summer McIntosh. This year, Titmus broke Ledecky’s world record but skipped a showdown with Ledecky at the world championships in prioritizing the Commonwealth Games. McIntosh took silver to Ledecky at worlds, becoming the fourth-fastest woman in history.
The hype has been compared to the “Race of the Century,” when Michael Phelps, Aussie Ian Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband met in the 200m free at the 2004 Athens Games (won by Thorpe).
Will Mikaela Shiffrin break one of Alpine skiing’s historic records?
Shiffrin heads into 2023 in arguably her best form since her incredible 2018-19 season, winning her last four races across three different disciplines to reach 80 World Cup wins. She is two victories shy of Lindsey Vonn‘s female record and six away from Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record that has stood since he retired in 1989. Shiffrin getting to 87 would be the most significant accomplishment in American ski racing — outside of the Olympics — since her breakout world title at age 17 in 2013.
Shiffrin is 27 years old and expects to compete at least through the 2026 Winter Games. If she gets to 87 World Cup wins in 2023, having averaged about eight victories per season, you have to start wondering whether 100 is possible.
What happens with Russian athletes?
Russians and Belarusians in most Olympic sports have been banned from international competition since the invasion of Ukraine 10 months ago. Olympic sports leaders have discussed since at least September how athletes who do not endorse the war could return in the future. The International Olympic Committee is not yet recommending the lifting of the bans, but did say it planned to explore the possibility of Russian athletes taking part in Olympic qualifying competitions in Asia rather than Europe.
A key sport is gymnastics. Russian gymnasts won men’s and women’s team gold at the Tokyo Games. As rules currently stand, Russians must compete at their continental championships this year (April for Europe, May or June for Asia) to remain eligible to qualify full teams for the Paris Games.
Will any U.S. beach volleyball gold medalist return?
The Olympic beach volleyball qualifying window runs from January 2023 into June 2024. It looks likely to start with no public word from reigning gold medalists Alix Klineman and April Ross on whether either will bid for the Paris Games. Klineman, 33, hasn’t competed since shoulder surgery last January. Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury.
“I’m weighing a lot of factors, a lot of life factors, a lot of, you know, opportunity factors,” Ross said earlier this month. “There’s a lot of things that are appealing to me at the moment, and I just have to decide which direction I want to go. But yeah, I still feel like I have a lot of good years of volleyball left in me.”
Kerri Walsh Jennings, the most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player with four medals (three gold), has been working out on Hermosa Beach with 2000 Olympic indoor teammate Logan Tom, according to videos posted by Buzzle this month. Walsh Jennings, 44, last played a tournament in June 2021, when she and then-partner Brooke Sweat were eclipsed for the second and last U.S. spot for the Tokyo Games. Walsh Jennings said last spring that she wanted Tom to be her new partner, then said in October that she should have an answer on her 2024 Olympic bid plans after the start of the new year.
The gold medalists have some time to deliberate, but probably need to return at some point in 2023 or risk falling significantly behind in qualifying for two Olympic spots. The U.S. has two strong, younger pairs in Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng, who won the most recent top-level international event earlier this month, and Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who won five times between the domestic AVP and international FIVB tours in 2022.
Which NBA superstars will suit up for USA Basketball?
The U.S. men’s basketball team may face a gigantic threat at the Paris Games (more on that in the next burning question), but first comes the quadrennial FIBA World Cup in August and September. Recall four years ago that the Americans, with just two reigning NBA All-Stars on the team and one player with Olympic experience, lost twice at the World Cup en route to their worst major tournament result ever — seventh place.
After Gregg Popovich coached the team to a bounce-back gold in Tokyo, Steve Kerr succeeded him as head coach. Grant Hill followed Jerry Colangelo as national team managing director. Will America’s best players sign up to travel around the globe — the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia co-host worlds — a month before NBA preseason training camps?
Which country will Joel Embiid play for?
The Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center, who was born in Cameroon, gained French nationality and U.S. citizenship this year, potentially making him eligible to represent any of those nations in international basketball. Embiid has not yet announced his choice, if he decides to play at all, but France’s GM expressed confidence last month.
If Embiid joins France, it could give the Olympic host country triplet towers with fellow 7-footers Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama, an 18-year-old whom LeBron James described as a one-of-a-kind talent. That could pose problems for the U.S. Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA first, second or third team in the last five seasons.
Can Kelly Slater qualify for Olympic surfing at age 51?
Many thought surfing’s debut in Tokyo was Slater’s only shot at the Olympics. He missed the team by one spot when it came down to the last event of yearlong qualifying. Then Slater came back in February to win the most prestigious contest in the sport — the Pipeline Masters — 30 years after he won it for the first time. Slater didn’t make the quarterfinals of any other event and finished the 2022 season ranked fifth among American men in world standings.
The top two American men in next year’s standings likely qualify for the Olympics. In a change from Tokyo, the U.S. has the chance to earn a third Olympic men’s spot if it wins the 2024 World Surfing Games. That spot can be filled via discretionary pick.
Will the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic host be decided?
The IOC announced earlier this month that the 2030 host is no longer expected to be decided before next fall, citing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the effects of climate change and the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.
Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. Then last week, Japanese officials announced a pause in the active promotion of the Sapporo bid that may include a national survey asking the public whether it wants to host the Games.
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030 — with Los Angeles already hosting the 2028 Summer Games — but could step in for 2030 if asked.
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Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on December 9th. With a slalom victory in Semmering, Austria on December 29th, Mikaela Shiffrin notched her 80th career World Cup victory. For the latest updates on Shiffrin and the alpine skiing season, visit OlympicTalk.
Sometime in the coming weeks, U.S. alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin will presumably — presumably being a very loaded and problematic word here — win her 83rd race on the World Cup circuit, the highest level of her sport, thus passing fellow American Lindsey Vonn for the most career victories by a woman. Not long after that, she will presumably win her 87th race, one more than Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won his 86 races from 1975-89. With that win, Shiffrin, who will turn 28 in March, will have accumulated more career victories than any ski racer in history, and will have ended a chase that has been ongoing and presumed for the better part of a decade. She will be deservedly celebrated for this achievement.
That celebration will undersell the moment and give Shiffrin a lesser form of praise than she deserves, because that is what career records do, just by existing. Career records compress the pain and struggle of an athletic career into a single, antiseptic number: the most this, or the most that. Touchdown passes, base hits, goals, sub four-minute miles. It will be said that Shiffrin’s record is the result of sustained brilliance, and that is manifestly true. It will be said that she packed her victories into a shorter period — 12 seasons — than either of the final two racers she passed; Vonn raced 18 seasons and won No. 82 at age 33, while Stenmark raced 16 seasons and won his last race at age 32. So this will also be true.
But these descriptions will soften the toll of Shiffrin’s work, because that is also what career records do. They simplify the complicated and sand down the rough edges, in service of the myth that the chosen number was inevitable. This was particularly true with Shiffrin: She was a prodigy, whispered — and then shouted — about across the breadth of the sport when she was barely in her teens, as the next big — and possibly biggest — thing. She won her first World Cup race at age 17 and an Olympic gold medal at 18 (the 2014 slalom in Sochi). She won a remarkable 17 World Cup races in the season that ended on March 17 of 2019, just four days after her 24th birthday. At that point she had won 60 World Cup races and seemed likely to blow past Vonn and Stenmark in as little as two more seasons. Hosanas were readied.
It has not played out exactly like that. In the three-plus seasons since that remarkable 2019 campaign, Shiffrin has won a total of 16 races (40 of Shiffrin’s 76 wins were crammed into three hyper-successful seasons from 2017-’19). She has changed since then, and she has been changed — by personal tragedy, by injury, by the realization of personal and professional mortality which young athletes deny successfully and older athletes either deny unsuccessfully or accept and fight against. What seemed easy has become much more difficult. (Of course, it was always difficult, Shiffrin just made it look easy, which is what the exceptional among us do.) And she has endured, most of all.
“For the last two years, I’ve had a note with something I wrote down,” Shiffrin said last weekend from her World Cup base in Europe. “It says, basically, what I would like most in life is to go back, like two-and-a-half years. I want to go back to where I was at the start of the year right after that 17-win season. It was my greatest season ever, and I was so happy. And I’d give anything to go back to that feeling.” She does not say this as if saddened, but as if enlightened, a very different thing.
The arc of Shiffrin’s life and career following that 2019 season is well-known to ski racing fans and even to a broader audience that witnessed her struggles in the 2022 Olympics. (More on that upcoming.) Just before the start of the 2020 World Cup season, Shiffrin’s 98-year-old grandmother, Pauline Condron, died. It’s reflexive to diminish deaths of the very old, but loss is loss and Shiffrin was very close to her grandmother. Shiffrin won six races from November to late January — not the pace of her previous season, but not shabby. On Feb. 2, 2020, her father, Jeff, died from an injury suffered in an accident at the family’s home in Colorado, while Mikaela was racing in Europe. From that moment forward, Shiffrin has carried extra weight.
As we talked last week, I suggested to Shiffrin — and again, this is not revelatory in tracing the life of an athlete, or a human being — that what had been a certain kind of innocence had become significantly more complicated in the last few years.
“When I was 16, 17, 18 years old,” says Shiffrin. “I didn’t know many people who had passed away. Since then, two of the five most important people in my life have passed away. They’re not here anymore. And that number is not going to get smaller as I get older.”
After the death of her father, Shiffrin did not race for over 300 days, much of that time during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which World Cup racing continued with relatively few cancellations (although with many interruptions and absences, and of course, no spectators). She returned and won three races in the 2021 season, pushing her total to 69. Content that highlighted her status in that moment often noted that she was “back.” She was not back. She will never be “back” in that simplistic, sports-centric way.
“Coming back to racing after my father passed,” says Shiffrin. “So many people said, ‘Well, you’re back.’ And then I won again and people said, ‘Wow, you’re really back.’ Actually, I was still really struggling.”
At the end of the 2021 season, Shiffrin won four medals at the World Championships, including a gold in the combined downhill-slalom event. She won four more World Cup races before the ’22 Olympics, but did not perform well in Beijing. She skied out early in both the giant slalom (stunning) and slalom (jaw-dropping), and then, after finishing– but not contending — in the speed events of Super-G and downhill, skied out in the slalom portion of the combined. It was an inexplicably poor performance that was endlessly analyzed in real time, including by Shiffrin herself, because she does not shy from public self-analysis, however painful.
Since then, on the one hand, she acknowledges that the experience left scars, because of course it did. At the same time, “I mean, people ask me about it,” she says. “Less and less on a daily basis, but I try to get the message out that I’m moving on.” Some of it will always be a mystery. “In the slalom and giant slalom and the combined, I went out at the fourth gate, the fifth fate, the ninth gate, but I skied those gates exactly how I wanted to ski them. I’m not one to DNF, usually. And in those races, I did not picture myself skiing out of the course, that’s for sure. But I did.”
Ten months have passed since that experience; three years since the deaths of her grandmother and father. This year she won World Cup slaloms in Levi, Finland, on consecutive days, Nos. 75 and 76. And then on Thanksgiving weekend at Killington in central Vermont, a home game on a hill where she had won five slaloms in five starts, she finished fifth (and 13th in giant slalom).
In all of this, the personal tragedies and the racing struggles, her relationship with her sport has evolved. The giant slalom finish in Killington she assigns to training too little this year in the discipline. The rest is more ethereal, more mental. “I’m in the middle of this whole, season-long epiphany, and maybe the Olympics sparked it, of how hard it is to not only win a ski race, but to make it to the finish. That’s not something I’ve struggled with for most of my career, but when you think about it, in ski racing, and you add up the changing conditions, the amount we care, it’s mind-boggling to me what I’ve done for the last 12 years.”
If that sounds like a lack of confidence, maybe, but that’s too simple. Consider it both a mature appreciation and a return to her roots as a racer. Jeff Shiffrin taught his kids — Mikaela and her brother, Taylor — to embrace the process of skiing artfully and to let the wins flow from that. “Any time I’ve started a race trying to win, instead of skiing my best, I have not won that race. But there is such an adrenaline rush to our sport, before you even win the race, and I’m still here for that. If I was here just for the winning, I would have retired by now. Because I’m close to 82 and 86, people find that hard to believe, but it’s true. I’d be done by now.”
She’s not done. Shiffrin thinks about what might come next, and concludes what most athletes conclude: “Anything else I do in life is probably going to be hard, but most other things are not going to give me as much back as ski racing has.” The 2026 Olympics will be jointly hosted by the city of Milan and the mountain resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, an iconic ski racing venue. “Anything could happen, and I could decide to retire,” Shiffrin says. “But I don’t see it happening before the [next] Olympics.”
Unfinished business? (And to be fair, despite Beijing, Shiffrin has three Olympic medals; the only U.S. woman to have won more is Julia Mancuso, with four.) “Not medal-wise,” she says. “But the last three Olympics have been in places that have nothing to do with alpine skiing, normally.” [Boy is that right: Sochi, PyeongChang, and Beijing.] “Cortina is a place that I love. I’d like to experience an Olympics there.” Pause. “And of course if I’m racing, I’m going to want to be a medal contender, and there’s all that goes along with that.” A mouthful.
Before that, 82 and 86 await. Shiffrin will race a giant slalom and slalom this weekend in Sestriere, Italy, site of the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic alpine races. From there, the World Cup grinds on, with 13 more slaloms and giant slaloms beyond that, and numerous speed races, should Shiffrin decide to race those as she often has in the past. There are plenty of opportunities to finish this job, as it were.
Yet she understands, most of all, that nothing is promised, not even life, and certainly not ski race wins. “In one way, I know I’ll win another World Cup race,” she says. Presumably. “But I also know you can’t be certain.” And that is the lesson that will make the records most meaningful.
For more on Shiffrin’s 2022-23 season, visit OlympicTalk.
Tim Layden is writer-at-large for NBC Sports. He was previously a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 25 years.