This wasn’t how Mikaela Shiffrin had envisaged her Winter Olympics at Beijing 2022 would go.
Two events in the space of three days ended in crashes for the 26-year-old, all but ending her hopes of becoming the first US skier to win three medals at a single Winter Olympics.
These Games are particularly emotional for Shiffrin as she competes at the Olympics for the first time without her father, Jeff, who died suddenly from an accident in February 2020 while at home in Colorado. He was 65.
And as she processed her second DNF on Wednesday, Shiffrin’s thoughts immediately turned to her father.
“It does give me perspective but right now, I would really like to call him,” she said after Wednesday’s slalom.
“So, that doesn’t make it easier. He would probably tell me to get over it, but he’s not here to say that, so on top of everything else I am pretty angry at him too.”
Competing on the other side of the world at the time of her father’s accident two years ago, the devastated skier rushed home with her mother Eileen and brother Taylor to be by his side.
“I was really grateful that we got a chance to see him in those final moments,” Shiffrin told CNN’s Christina Macfarlane back in 2020.
It is a given in the skiing world that few families are as tight as the Shiffrins. During the season, her mother is frequently seen alongside Shiffrin on the race hill.
Her father would join the media in the finish area, trying to capture the best picture of his daughter crossing the finish line. Another medal in tow, another memory for the family album.
“Skiing is something that my entire family shares. And my dad, he loved skiing, he loved it … I found being on the mountains was like being close to him.”
‘The consequences are too big’
The opening day of the alpine skiing schedule in Beijing on Monday wasn’t just tough for Shiffrin, but also her boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.
Not long after Shiffrin had crashed out after just five turns of her opening runs, Kilde could only manage fifth place in the men’s downhill, though he did win a bronze in the men’s super-G on Tuesday.
Kilde is currently the world’s No. 1 men’s downhill skier and had been favorite to take gold coming into Beijing 2022, but he admitted “some mistakes” cost him any chance at a medal.
Ahead of their opening events, Kilde had talked about life was like in the Olympic Village with Shiffrin – the 29-year-old Norwegian and the American have been dubbed skiing’s most famous power couple.
“Everybody says: ‘Yeah, now you can spend so much time together and it’s nice to have her,’ but it’s more challenging,” he says. “With Covid and restrictions, you have to be really careful.
READ: Mikaela Shiffrin doesn’t want to have to choose between ‘morality versus being able to do your job’ at the 2022 Winter Olympics
“It’s a tease kind of, if you know what I mean. You see her but you can’t really touch her, can’t really be with her that much. But it’s really nice to have her here. Of course we can eat dinner together and it’s no problem. We really enjoy that.
“We are keeping the same routine as always, face-timing, talking on the phone. We try to be careful because if we get Covid then the consequences are too big.”
Given their competitive nature – and the fact they are both at the top of their field – Klide said it’s beneficial for both of them to be dating a high-level skier.
“Just in general how things are feeling, experiences, decision-making,” he says. “All those general things about skiing, not really too much technical.
“She sends me videos and I send her videos and then we try to learn from each other a little. I have a lot to learn from her.”
‘Morality versus being able to do your job’
In an interview with CNN in 2021, Shiffrin spoke about the “morality” of competing at Beijing 2022 under the shadow of alleged human rights violations in China, in particular against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
The US State Department estimates as many as two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang province since 2017, although China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses.
“What’s a real bummer is that there’s not only accusations but, like, legitimate proof in a lot of these places we’ve been going the last several Olympics,” she said.
“One of the important things about the Olympics is that it is supposed to be a global event, not just in your sort of mainstream sporting countries, but it’s supposed to be global. I do understand the importance of trying to stay true to that pledge, essentially. But it is tough, to be honest.
“The Olympics is big, and it’s something that you shoot for, and you don’t want to miss it.
“And you certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights like morality versus being able to do your job, which on the other hand can bring light to some issues or can actually bring hope to the world at a very difficult time.”