Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin entered these Olympics as a dominant athlete in her prime. The 26-year-old won gold in the giant slalom at the 2018 Games, and collected two bronzes and a silver in her individual races at the 2021 World Championships. Now, two races into the five she is scheduled to compete in at the 2022 Games, the question isn't even whether Shiffrin will leave Beijing with any medals, but whether she will finish a race.
On Monday, Shiffrin lost control early during her run in the giant slalom and skidded off the course. Skids and falls happen in downhill skiing, but Shiffrin has always been a consistent finisher and rarely ends up going off course. Monday's fall, which disqualified her from the event, felt like a fluke. Just one of those unfortunate things that happens, but can easily be forgotten as soon as the next race starts.
That next race, Wednesday's slalom, once again ended with Shiffrin disqualified from the event. Shiffrin's skid in the slalom was even more confounding than the first, as it occurred just seconds after the race had started, when Shiffrin was attempting to steer past the fifth gate on the course. The blunder was so shocking that it briefly left NBC's announcers speechless, and Shiffrin was so shaken by it that she sat on the side of the course with her head down for 20 minutes after her disqualification. Shiffrin eventually collected herself and gave an interview at the course, which was not easy to watch. Shiffrin's voice was shaky as she tried to describe what happened, and at one point she had to fight back tears.
"I had every intention to go full gas," Shiffrin said. "And there wasn't really space in the course to, I don't know, to slip even, not even a little bit. I didn't give myself space for that. And in my experience that mentality has brought my best skiing, and today I went out on the fifth gate. So yeah."
Shiffrin was then asked about what she was "still processing," to which she replied, "Pretty much everything makes me second guess the last 15 years, everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom, and racing mentality. Just processing a lot, for sure."
Nobody can know what's going on inside another person's head or body, and so there's no use trying to diagnose from afar what exactly has caused Shiffrin to crash out of two straight races. But it's clear, based on Shiffrin's post-race demeanor and comments, that both failures are weighing heavily on her. She still has multiple chances to compete for a medal—she's scheduled to race in the super-G, the downhill, and the combined—but she also raised the possibility of ending her Olympics early. Later on Wednesday, Shiffrin was asked if she was still up to compete in the three remaining events, and she was honest about the doubts she is now feeling. From ESPN:
"Yeah," she said before pausing. "I mean no. I'll try to reset again, and maybe try to reset better this time. But I also don't know how to do it better because I've never been in this position before and I don't know how to handle it."The hill and the ski track looks pretty incredible and I think it will be a pleasure to ski but I also have some teammates who are really fast and we have the athletes who can fill the spaces. If I'm going to ski out on the fifth gate, what's the point?"ESPN
Shiffrin has until Friday, when the super-G is scheduled, to make her decision.