FLACHAU, Austria — While Mikaela Shiffrin is set to continue her quest for a record-setting 83rd women’s Alpine skiing World Cup win next week, her biggest idol sees even larger milestones coming up for the American.
Marlies Raich, the Austrian standout who dominated women’s slalom under her maiden name Schild before retiring in 2014, believes the 27-year-old Shiffrin's tally of victories will likely have reached a three-digit figure by the time she retires.
“When she stays healthy, when she stays hungry, she can reach… I don’t know, 100 or more,” Raich told The Associated Press after Tuesday’s night race.
At the floodlit event, Shiffrin missed a first opportunity to move ahead of the 82-win mark she shares with fellow American great Lindsey Vonn, who had her career ended by injuries four years ago.
Once Shiffrin has passed Vonn, attention will turn to the overall record of 86 wins, held by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark since the 1980s.
Shiffrin matched Vonn’s achievement last Sunday with a giant slalom triumph in Slovenia. Many expected her to add victory No. 83 two days later in Austria, but Shiffrin suffered from illness and finished second to a resurgent Petra Vlhová, the Olympic slalom champion from Slovakia who claimed her first win of the season.
“But you see today, it’s not a given to win every race. It’s always hard work,” Raich said. “Mikaela doesn’t think about records and stuff, because it would not make you so strong with those things in your head. She is focused: what she wants to do is just to do good turns, these turns that feel good.”
Shiffrin certainly didn’t feel good racing under the lights on Tuesday night.
While her skiing didn’t reveal her unease, she was battling a stomach bug and threw up shortly after doing TV interviews. Against the backdrop of loudly celebrating and flag-waving Slovakian fans in the stands, Shiffrin was then guided out of the finish area by her team and didn’t speak to reporters.
After competing in seven events over the last 15 days, and winning five of them, Shiffrin decided to sit out speed races this upcoming weekend at St. Anton, a resort in Austria where she has never raced. She was expected back in action at a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo on Jan. 20.
Shiffrin usually does well at the resort in the Italian Dolomites, where she won a World Cup super-G four years ago and collected four medals at the 2021 world championships.
“But,” said her head coach, Mike Day, “we’ll see how this week goes and how she’s feeling and how she recovers from a little bit of illness and a lot of fatigue.”
Shiffrin and Raich share a special friendship since the American’s breakthrough at top-level racing in 2011.
Shiffrin has never made a secret of her admiration for the Austrian’s style of slalom racing and has extensively studied video footage of her runs.
Raich, on her turn, has been impressed with Shiffrin’s skiing since she first saw her compete as a 16-year-old prodigy.
“From the first time I saw her, she had a great technique,” Raich said. “She is so balanced, she is very athletic, she feels the skis. Most of the time, she knows what to do in the right time.”
In 2013, Raich set the women’s standard in slalom skiing at 35 wins. Shiffrin overtook her five years later and now stands at 51 victories in the discipline.
According to Raich, it is plain hard work that pays off for Shiffrin.
“She has 82 World Cup victories right now and she never stops working and never stops getting better,” Raich said. “I know how hard it is, how much energy it takes to be so good for so long.”
From the seasons they raced against each other, Raich recalled how Shiffrin and her mother and coach Eileen used to come up to her after races to compliment her skiing.
“They said they liked watching me,” Raich said. “Later Mikaela said in an interview she was looking up to me. Now I am looking up to her and admire what she’s doing. I’m proud that the best of all time maybe has got something from me.”