Alpine SkiingNewsMikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin is Otherworldly, Exceeds All Expectations With Dominant Comeback Victory in Sweden

by Brian Pinelli

Mikaela Shiffrin after winning the women's slalom at the 2024 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on March 10, 2024 in Are, Sweden. (Photo by Getty Images)

Winning world cup ski races versus elite competition at the highest level, by large margins of 1.2 seconds or greater is highly improbable, unusual and for most ski racers, unthinkable. Then factor in an athlete being out of race form and battling back from a demoralizing injury in a dangerous sport in which quick reaction and timing on the race slope are critical. It is simply unrealistic.

That is exactly what Mikaela Shiffrin accomplished in Åre, Sweden, charging to her 96th world cup victory. Having been sidelined with a left leg injury, ligament sprains and a bone bruise, sustained in a nasty, high-speed crash in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in late January, Shiffrin’s return to racing and dominating 1.24-second winning margin on Sunday was mind-boggling.

It took the Colorado ski racer six weeks to rehabilitate her injuries, and she only managed four slalom training sessions on the back end. Shiffrin not only defied the odds with her comeback triumph, but also clinched a record-tying eighth world cup slalom title.

“There has been so much uncertaintly coming into this race – the biggest goal I had was just to ski good skiing in the final races of the season,” Shiffrin said, after the victory in Åre. “Just to have the chance to do that again before the season is over, it felt so important so I can prove that I have the right pace and the right mentality to close out the season and start next year in a better place.

“We weren’t sure it would work and now we look back at this my whole team everybody is like – ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me, I’m in a dream right now.’”

Naturally, everyone was wondering if Shiffrin was enduring any pain. Journalists politely queried her, secretly wanting to ask, ‘Are you human?’

"Yes, but it’s manageable – I feel like I can ski really well right now,” Shiffrin admitted, about feeling pain, while charging down the long slalom race course, boasting 620-feet of vertical drop. “I felt great with my first run skiing and I thought if I can be just a little more clean it will feel better, also on the knee, so this (second) run I wouldn’t change anything.”

Shiffrin clocked the fastest times in both the first and second runs, on a familiar mountain where she won her first world cup race in 2012 and became the all-time world cup victories leader with her 87th win last March.

Swiss two-time Olympic champion Michele Gisin, who finished third, 1.34 seconds behind Shiffrin, commended her Amerian opponent on the impressive return to form.

“It’s amazing, of course – she had a very bad crash in Cortina, as many of us had, and I think she was struggling a lot,” Gisin said. “It’s great that she wasn’t injured even worse; I’m very grateful for her because if would have been horrible.

“She’s back and skiing almost perfectly already, especially in the second run. It was very beautfiul to watch.”

Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the women's slalom at the 2024 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on March 10, 2024 in Are, Sweden. (Photo by Getty Images)

Shiffrin provided further insight into the hard work, rehabilitation and struggles behind the scenes of the comeback, alongside her committed team, which includes her mother and coach Eileen Shiffrin, and first-year personal coach Karin Harjo.

“Its almost like riding a bike, but a different bike than you’ve been riding, so sometimes you’re a little bit rusty,” Shiffrin said. 

“These last weeks with my team, mostly we all did a really good job to stay day-by-day. When you’re trying to come back from an injury during the season, it’s a different feeling. You can’t take one minure for actual recovery or rest because every minute we had a plan of progressing. You hit these check marks along the way. 

“That was challenging for all of us, we’re skiing, its painful, and we’re wondering, why are we trying? It’s because this is our goal, it’s going to work and we just have to be patient.”

Summarizing the challenge, all culminating in a most unexpected victory in Sweden, Shiffrin added: “Coming here today, it’s a really special feeling. Like a dream.”

Capturing her eighth slalom title, Shiffrin equaled the record for most season titles in any alpine skiing classification, joining Ingemar Stenmark (slalom and giant slalom) and Lindsey Vonn (downhill). Marcel Hirscher won the men's overall world cup standings eight times. 

Shiffrin has won eight times across 20 races this season. A sixth overall world cup title – which would have equaled the record held by Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Pröll  appeared likely, but the injury forced her out of more than one month of competition. Shiffrin currently has 1,309 points, 345 points behind Lara Gut-Behrami’s total of 1,654, but has skied five fewer races.

Her 96th world cup triumph in Sweden, and 59th in slalom, also elevated her career podium total to 151. Her 83 podiums in slalom is the most in any single discipline by any skier, male or female. Stenmark stands second with 81 podiums. Shiffrin has accumulated those staggering totals across 269 career world cup starts – amounting to an incredible 35.7% winning percentage.

Shiffrin indicated that she will conclude her 2023-24 campaign at the 2024 FIS Ski World Cup Finals in Saalbach, Austria, this weekend, March 16-17. She will compete in one final slalom and more than likley the final GS, to wrap up what has been a most eventful and dramatic season.