By Polly Mikula
The 2021-22 Alpine racing season will feature the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, from Feb. 4-20, 2022. Due to Covid-19, the Olympic test events in 2020 and 2021 were canceled, so the Alpine racers will head into the Olympics without having skied the tracks.
The 44 athletes nominated to represent the U.S. will be supported by a strong coaching staff, committed to “winning at every level,” which is Alpine Director Jesse Hunt’s mantra.
“We are inspired by this group of nominated athletes that not only endured but excelled in one of the most difficult seasons in memory,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard said in a statement when nominations for the team were announced in May. “They persevered through a pandemic and remained determined to achieve greatness in spite of the daily challenges. It is a truly extraordinary group and we are proud to announce their nomination to the team in an Olympic year.”
The spotlight that shines on Mikaela Shiffrin all winter will perhaps be the brightest at the Olympics in Beijing. Shiffrin has once again announced that she plans to compete in all five Alpine events: Giant Slalom Feb. 7, Slalom Feb. 9, Super-G Feb. 11, Downhill Feb. 15 and Alpine Combined Feb. 17.
“Something I’m dreaming about right now is to be able to compete in each event in China. But that means I have to do a lot more preparation mentally,” Shiffrin said from Austria on Friday, Oct. 15, during a video conference with reporters. “Just understanding how that is going to affect me mentally and physically throughout, essentially, the three weeks that we’re there.
“So it definitely takes a lot of my focus to think: What are the boxes we have to check, even totally outside of skiing and technique and tactics and the physical side of things? What are the boxes we need to check to make sure that I have some comfort level staying in a place that I’ve never been before for three weeks and dealing with the jet lag and getting over that as fast as possible?” she said.
Shiffrin had also aimed to compete in all five events in 2018 at the Pyeongchang Olympics— but weather-related rescheduling contributed to her participating in only three races.
“I definitely walked away with eyes wide open after that,” Shiffrin told reporters. “So many things can change, not only between now and then, but just between the start of the first Olympic race to the end of the Games, that any plan could very, very easily change at the drop of a hat.”
This will be Mikaela’s third Winter Olympics.
In 2014 in Sochi, Russia, at the age of 18, Shiffrin won gold in Slalom. In doing so, she became the youngest Slalom champion in Olympic history. She also raced Giant Slalom but missed the podium, coming in fifth.
In 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at 22, she won the Giant Slalom and podiumed in the Alpine Combined event, taking the silver medal, but just missed the podium in Slalom, coming in fourth despite being favored to win.
One more for a record
Shiffrin entered the Olympic season with 106 career World Cup medals, 70 of them gold. Her hardware collection already includes two Olympic golds medals and a silver one. She needs only one more gold in Beijing to boast the most Olympic wins by an American Alpine skier. (She currently shares the mark with Ted Ligety and Rutland native Andrea Mead Lawrence.)
Potential obstacle: Her back
Shiffrin suffered recurring back troubles last year, and acknowledged towards the end of last season that she’d have to manage that moving forward in racing. “We’re definitely going to take that into account going into next season, not only for the Olympics, but just for my longevity in my career as a whole,” she admitted last spring. “For sure the Olympics, it’s a target, but a bigger target would be to say, not only can I compete at the Olympics, but I can just compete regularly.”