At a news conference Sunday following her latest win on the mountain, Mikaela Shiffrin was asked whether she is afraid she might wake up and realize the past couple of weeks have been a dream.
“This is the first time I’m not afraid of that,” she said. “. . . It doesn’t feel like I’m dreaming. It doesn’t feel like it’s something crazy that’s happening. It just feels like I’m skiing really well, and I’m starting to feel that in the races more and more. So it’s not like I’m dreaming, and that’s really cool.”
Just one month from the start of the Winter Olympics, Shiffrin is enjoying a run of success the sport has rarely seen. With Saturday’s win in the giant slalom and Sunday’s victory in the slalom, Shiffrin has won seven of her past eight races. She leads the overall World Cup standings, in addition to the downhill, giant slalom and slalom rankings.
Shiffrin, 22, won gold in the slalom at the Sochi Games four years ago but probably will enter PyeongChang as a favorite for three gold medals. Croatia’s Janica Kostelic is the only women’s skier to win that many golds at a single Olympics (2002).
Every week this season, Shiffrin seems to put distance between herself and the rest of the field. She has become more dominant in the slalom and more competitive and consistent in the downhill and giant slalom. Following Sunday’s race on the Podkoren course in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter said Shiffrin’s run of success is “frustrating,” according to the Associated Press, “but it is also good for the sport.”
“All of us want to ski faster than her, but she is on another level,” she said. “We need to train harder and ski faster.”
Adding to the frustration, Shiffrin makes it all look so effortless. In her first run Sunday, she bested the field by 1.47 seconds — an eternity in a sport typically decided by the thinnest of margins. It marked the fourth straight slalom race in which Shiffrin held a lead of more than a second after the first run.
“I felt so clean and aggressive on the first run,” she told reporters Sunday. “I don’t know if a perfect run is even possible, but it was very close.”
Shiffrin’s promise was evident four years ago, but this season especially, she is showcasing both her versatility and consistency. Sunday marked her 40th career World Cup win. Lindsey Vonn holds the women’s record with 78 career wins, but she had only seven when she was Shiffrin’s age.
Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell is the only skier to win more races (41) at age 22, a mark that Shiffrin could top by the end of the week.
Victory No. 39 came Saturday in the giant slalom as Shiffrin bested France’s Tessa Worley, last year’s world champion in the discipline, by 0.31 seconds thanks to an opening run that was 0.86 seconds faster than anyone else.
“For me, it’s been the hardest event to get my confidence and to get consistent with,” Shiffrin said of the giant slalom. “I’m still not always consistent with it. It’s really tricky and requires a lot of finesse. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m the best GS skier right now.”
But week in and week out, the results suggest otherwise. With the Winter Games right around the corner, Shiffrin is putting together some of her best races, befuddling the field and raising expectations for what could be a memorable Olympics.
“I’m just trying to enjoy every turn that I make and to make every turn aggressive,” she said Sunday in Slovenia. “For sure I want to win. But everybody wants to win, and right now I’m just enjoying that so much — the skiing is even more important than the winning.”