“Now that I’ve won an Olympic gold medal, I can’t wait to study for my SATs,” said nobody ever – Well, except Mikaela Shiffrin, albeit with notably less enthusiasm.
When we recently caught up with Mikaela, she was already training for the upcoming ski season, promoting healthy family eating habits on behalf of her sponsor (Barilla), and more immediately, passing her college admissions test and enrolling in a few courses.
Mikaela made her debut as a World Cup ski racer when she was just 15. But chasing after podiums, World Cups, and gold medals leaves one with little time to study, much less make it to class. She graduated from Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy in the Summer of 2013, but she spent most of her last two years of high school in Europe, racing on the World Cup circuit. Mikaela turned 19 in March, and she ended the 2013/14 season as the reigning Olympic, World Cup, and world champion in slalom.
Definitions of a great ski season vary, but suffice it to say that Mikaela’s was off the charts. She’s received a rock star’s welcome after Sochi, with a tour-like celebration of homecoming events, a meeting with President Obama, and an award banquet where she and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning were named the 2013 Colorado Athletes of the Year.
We asked Mikaela what it was like on race day in her Olympic debut.
What was going through your mind before the start of the slalom in Sochi?
For my first run, I was really excited to ski, but I was a little sick that day. I had been using medication and was hoping I wouldn’t get congested. I was a little worried that I might start feeling bad before the run, but I was feeling pretty good and I was just really excited to race.
So after your first run, you were in the lead by more than 1.34 seconds. What were you thinking about on the second chairlift ride?
I was listening to my music and the song “Atlas” by Cold Play came on. It’s one of the theme songs for the second Hunger Games movie. I love those movies and I was just, like, thinking about the movie, and the theme of the song.
Then all of a sudden, I started thinking about my second run and what I wanted to do with it and I was like, “Wait a second, I could win this!” Just then, the realization hit me that I could win my first Olympic medal today so I started getting a little emotional. I was like, “Snap out of it! You haven’t even raced yet!”
You caught an awkward edge on your second run and got wide on the gate. What were you thinking about then?
I mean right now, I’m just thinking, “Thank God I made it’ because at the time I thought I was going to go out. At the end, everybody was like, “Oh, you gave me a heart attack” and I was like, “Well I gave myself a heart attack!” That was not the right place to pull it, but it’s always good to put on a show like that, if you can pull it off.
That’s funny, you really did just say that! So you’re getting good at graceful recoveries, is it part of your act?
It didn’t seem very graceful to me, but if it looked graceful to everybody else then that’s awesome! I’ll take it.
Who do you most look up to on the World Cup tour?
My biggest idol is probably Bode Miller, but I admire everybody. All the top racers I really admire because they’re so passionate and professional, and there is a reason they’re at the top.
Have you Googled yourself recently?
No, not recently, I haven’t.
Well I have, and it’s kind of a long list.
Oh, geez, is it really? A couple of years ago, we were in class and we were doing a project. Somebody was Googling stuff, and it was on a big monitor in our classroom. So the class decided to just start Googling the names of everybody in the class. They Googled me last, and I was like, ‘No, don’t Google it. Don’t do it!” Then they said “Mikaela, look how many things came up for you!” It was awkward…really awkward.
Tell us about your parents, they raced too, right?
Yea, my Dad raced at Dartmouth and my mom raced all through high school. They both know a lot about skiing and they both love looking at skiing. They love the technique of it, so when I was out on the hill with them they were always telling me to get my hands forward, and level my shoulders out. The one thing I heard my dad tell me all the time is knees to skis, hands in front. He wanted to get it into my head that I need to be balanced and forward on my skis.
So, any thoughts on what happens after ski racing?
I really love science. My dad’s a doctor and I’ve seen him work so I’m interested in going into the medical world, but that takes so long to do…Whatever I do, I suppose I’ll do it with a passion.