In late 2015, at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at the base of Beaver Creek in Avon, RealVail.com asked Olympic gold medalist ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin if she thought athletes should speak out on political and policy issues such as global climate change.
Shiffrin, 20 years old at the time and speaking just a few months after President Donald Trump announced his presidential run on a golden escalator ride at Trump Tower in New York City, joked: “I probably won’t be able to say anything extremely intellectual, so any scientists out there should just stop reading right now. But totally we should try to limit the carbon footprint.”
Last week, speaking to CNN International as she was training for the season-opening World Cup race Saturday in Soelden, Austria, Shiffrin, now 25, sounded a lot more studied and serious on such topics. She was asked about Trump’s contraction earlier this month of COVID-19 – a disease that has killed more than 215,000 Americans and ended last season’s World Cup.
“I think it’s like, this enormous, undeniable blaring signal of ‘wake up, people!’ This is happening and it’s not going to go away if you ignore it. So, snap to it. Take it seriously. Events with no masks? Probably not a great idea,” Shiffrin told CNN last week.
CNN reported that Nov. 3 would be the second time Shiffrin, an Edwards resident, has watched the U.S. presidential elections from overseas while on tour, but that’s now changed, with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team reporting on Friday that Shiffrin was pulling out of the opener and heading “back to the States to rest and recover” after tweaking her back in training.
Shiffrin told CNN that in 2016 she felt disconnected from the presidential election process and didn’t understand the importance of her vote, adding that has changed over the last four years.
“It’s not only important for our nation, but it’s also important for the individual people who live in it,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said. “And I’m excited to vote. I think that’s a big step in my ability to stand strong for things I believe. For me, that’s unity, inclusion and the belief in science and medicine.”
In 2015 – the last time RealVail.com interviewed the rising superstar – she was rehabbing from a rare knee injury and more focused on getting back on skis by the end of the World Cup season in March. She talked about the rehab process for ESPN.com and her dating status for RealVail.com.
But she wasn’t willing to go too deep into political and policy matters the way other athletes on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team have been putting themselves out there for years. Utah’s Teg Ligety – the only other double Olympic gold medalist in U.S. alpine history – has been outspoken on climate change since the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 and continues to advocate for climate change mitigation individually and as part of Protect Our Winters.
Retired gold medalist Bode Miller tackled climate change in a 2017 RealVail.com interview for the Colorado Springs Gazette, and retired gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, formerly of Vail, questioned U.S. leadership abroad in a CNN interview before the 2018 Winter Olympics and last week seemed to be critical of Shiffrin’s overall legacy and role on the ski team.
Shiffrin has been more guarded and less willing to engage than her current and former teammates over the years. At the time of that 2015 interview, Shiffrin had earned “just” 17 World Cup wins and was third on the American women’s victory list – one behind the legendary Tamara McKinney. Shiffrin came back from the knee injury in record time, got back on the circuit by March of 2016 and has never looked back.
Heading into this season, Shiffrin is second on the all-time wins list with 66 career victories, “just” 16 wins from tying Vonn at 82. If Shiffrin matches her single-season record of 17 victories – a big if because the white circus is only in Europe and some of Shiffrin’s favorite North American races have been cancelled – then she would surpass Vonn for the all-time mark.
With some of Shiffrin’s favorite venues – Killington and, increasingly, Lake Louise – off the calendar due to the failed U.S. COVID-19 response, the uncertainty of her back injury eliminating Soelden (where she won in 2014) and an unclear timetable for her return, surpassing Vonn’s career victory mark may be unrealistic this season.
Shiffrin last season was on her way to what would have been an American record fourth straight overall title. She had been cruising to the title when her father, Jeff Shiffrin, died in an accident at their home in Edwards. Mikaela took time off to mourn, lost the overall lead and came back in March, only to have the tour scrapped due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week in an interview with the Associated Press, Shiffrin questioned how long her heart will be in racing in the wake of her father’s death. In an interview last month with the New York Times, however, she made it clear that she’ll continue to speak her mind on critical topics.
“I didn’t feel it was OK to be silent or to just say, ‘Oh, I don’t really know enough,’” Shiffrin told the Times. “I did some research and I wanted to be on the side of people who are going to insist on change.”
The annual Birds of Prey men’s World Cup races in Beaver Creek have also been cancelled due to the failed national response to COVID-19. Here’s the women’s Europe-only schedule: