Beijing 2022 proved to be the most difficult two weeks of Mikaela Shiffrin’s career.
After coming into the Winter Games with a realistic chance of becoming the first American skier to win three golds at a single Olympics, the 26-year-old suffered 60% of her career DNF’s at the National Alpine Skiing Centre this month.
Shiffrin failed to finish in three of the six events she competed in, crashing out after only five gates in both the giant slalom and slalom.
Despite that disappointment – which culminated in Shiffrin ending her stay in Beijing without a medal following the USA’s loss to Norway in the small final of the mixed team parallel on Sunday – the skier is remaining remarkably sanguine about her participation at these Winter Olympics.
“The pinnacle of the last four years of work is over now and it did not really go that well for me,” Shiffrin says. “However, you can fail and not be a failure. You can lose and actually be a loser because you lost, but still also be a winner.
“It’s just what you do on a daily basis. Some days you lose and some days you win, and you can go through all of that and have the most turbulent times and still rise again tomorrow.
“It’s not so scary to fail, especially because I failed because I was trying so hard – maybe too hard.
“And maybe after 12 years in a ski career, I should have known how hard to push and not go over that limit, but I pushed harder because I wanted it and that’s not really an excuse.
“I’m going to go out again and try next time, but fewer people will be watching,” she laughs.
After she crashed out of the slalom, the sight of Shiffrin sitting at the side of the slope, her arms on her knees and her head bowed, became one of the enduring images of Beijing 2022.
As one of the greatest to ever put on a pair of skis, Shiffrin has become accustomed to success throughout her career, which includes gold medals from Sochi and Pyeongchang.
However, after suffering her second DNF in the space of three days in Beijing, Shiffrin says she just needed a moment with her thoughts on the hill.
“It’s maybe not as insightful as you might hope,” she says when asked about what she was thinking about in that moment.
“I was feeling cold and I sat down on the snow and I was immediately like: ‘That was a bad, bad idea because now my bum is also cold and wet’ – and I felt really trapped in there.
“I just wanted to get as far out of the line of vision for the other athletes who were still racing and starting in less than a minute, and I was hoping I was far enough to the side because I went out so soon, they were literally in the start.
“I’m like: ‘Oh my gosh, Paula [Moltzan], my teammate, she’s coming pretty soon. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, she’s going to see me, she’s going to freak out. I just need to get over here and then I need to be still as a stone.’”
In the days that followed her third DNF, Shiffrin posted some of the abusive messages she had received on social media during her time in Beijing.
“Got what you deserved,” “dumb blonde” and “dumb b*tch” were among some of the messages, with others telling her to retire from the sport.
Shiffrin admitted in her Instagram post that she had started to question why she keeps coming back to skiing, but now says the thought of being back atop the podium is driving her to get back out onto the slopes.
“It’s actually a lot of the things I fear the most about myself,” she says. “That I have lost my touch in the sport, that I should give it up … they’re the worst things you think about yourself, yet somebody else just finds a way to push those buttons.
“And you’re like: ‘I want to argue with you, but I just don’t even know what to say.’ I saw one comment today [that said], ‘You’re just a loser and you didn’t contribute anything.’ I’m like: ‘I know!’” Shiffrin laughs.
“I realize that and I am a loser, but I’ve also been a winner and I think I can win again.”