It seems like just yesterday that the teenaged girl stood somewhat bewildered in the finish area in Schladming, Austria looking up at the stadium scoreboard, a TV cameraman walking around her filming her every emotion. In third place after the first of two runs of slalom, she had set a blistering pace down the Streicher ski run to take the lead. Now, at the tender age of 17, she was suddenly a world champion.
Today, Mikaela Shiffrin, now 23, has three World Championship gold medals to her credit, along with 43 World Cup victories. But she thinks back often to that day in Schladming when 50,000 ardent Austrian fans showed their appreciation for her performance on the grueling, icy track of the Planai piste.
Fast forward six years and Mikaela has risen to become a global sporting star and celebrity. While her comfort zone comes first in pushing her athleticism on steep mountain pitches, she has made the transition from starting gate to red carpet, and from racing suit to elegant gowns, with the same aplomb that gets her down from alpine peaks faster than any other ski racer in the world.
And while she swoops gracefully in front of cameras from Cannes to Los Angeles, she still retains that teenaged innocence the world came to know just a few years ago.
journey to excellence
It has been a remarkable ride to excellence for Mikaela Shiffrin. Alongside her for much of that journey has been Longines. That same year she won her first major medal event at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming, the Colorado native was acclaimed as the annual Longines Rising Ski Star – an honor she claimed for four straight years. A year later she became a Longines Ambassador of Elegance.
Ski racing ran in the Shiffrin family. Her parents, Jeff and Eileen, were both passionate skiers. They had young Mikaela and older brother Taylor on skis at an early age. The two took to snow naturally. But Mikaela really stood out. At an early age she mystified ski instructors not really sure what to do with a young girl whose skill was so advanced for her age.
To Mikaela and Taylor, it was just fun – following mom and dad down the slopes.
The other element taught to them by mom and dad was a strong work ethic – on and off the slopes. They knew Mikaela had natural talent as a skier. But they did not want her to rest on that. Do the hard work and the results would come. And they did.
Jeff’s work as an anesthesiologist had him floating between hospitals in Denver, Colorado and Hanover, New Hampshire. So young Mikaela had the experience of skiing the magical powder of the Colorado Rocky Mountains as well as the icy, cold pitches of ski areas in Vermont. It was that ice and biting cold of the New England winters that built character in the young ski racer.
focus on fundamental skills
Many have looked at Mikaela’s past wondering what development concepts can be gleaned from her development. Probably not a lot. She was unique. Skiing for the Shiffrin family was about having fun. As an aspiring ski racer, the focus for Mikaela was on skills development through her early years. It was not about medals or crystal globes. It was about growing up as a young girl, experiencing life and building a good work ethic.
It was also about the culture of the sport. Summers with the family in Austria brought her closer to the roots of alpine ski racing. Her heroes were not just the American stars. She looked up to Austrian greats like Marlies Schild and followed her every move.
When she did make her move onto the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup at the age of 15, her childhood focus on fundamentals showed. She just skied well, so grounded in the basics. And she was having fun. While her focus had never been on results or medals, those began to come.
winning as a teen
In her first World Cup weekend at Špindlerův Mlýn in the Czech Republic, she failed to qualify for a second run. Eight months later in Aspen, Colorado, she scored a top-10. A month later she was on the podium, finishing third in Lienz, Austria. Less than a year later, she won her first World Cup in Åre, Sweden at just 16 years old.
She quickly became a favorite of the news media for her wholesomeness, her true caring and her ability to make jokes with them at press conferences. There was a bit of awkwardness about her in that setting, which was a part of her true charm.
The roots of her upbringing still ring true today. She is truly a wonderful young woman who just happens to be the world’s greatest ski racer. While her skiing came naturally, her transition to the red carpet as a global sports star has been a new chapter for her.
european film festival
On a major European film festival stage in May, Mikaela joined fellow USA sport stars as guests of the American network NBCUniversal. Juggling red carpets and TV appearances, she rubbed elbows with the likes of Danish actor and Game of Thrones Kingslayer Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
“Taking advantage of this kind of attention that my sport is getting is really cool,” she said. “I try to play it up as much as much as possible to show people ski racing is a fun sport.”
In her role as a Longines Ambassador, Mikaela has grown more comfortable with her public role. And she laughs when she thinks about herself just a few years ago.
“It was a bit more of a process for me this time around,” she laughed while preparing for a live TV red carpet show in Los Angeles this past summer. “The last time I attended these awards I just went to the store and bought a dress off the rack, ‘oh, this looks good, I’ll wear that.”
stylish in LA
This year Mikaela teamed up with celebrity stylist Alexandra Mandelkorn for a ‘wow’ look that dazzled as the strobe lights flashed on the red carpet. Mandelkorn was impressed with Mikaela’s knowledge and passion for fashion – ‘she did her homework.’ They settled on a shimmering silver fitted dress with some unique jewels as an accent.
She was one of the favorites walking the media line, interview after interview including a fun session with figure skater Adam Rippon who was working for the American television network ABC. And she caught the eye of more than just a few celebrities including English actress Kate Beckinsale and the American TV and film star Jennifer Garner.
back to snow
By August, the destination of her jet setting turned to colder climates. First, it was off to South America for an on-snow camp. Then came the glaciers of Europe and on to the World Cup tour for its six-month span, and a World Championships this February in Sweden where she will seek a fourth straight slalom gold.
At every stop along the way, media will be clamoring and fans will strain their necks to catch a glimpse. Mikaela will just give them a wink and her ever present friendly smile.
She’s having fun with life doing what she loves.