Mikaela Shiffrin doesn’t lose often. Rarer still, she doesn’t lose to the same person over and over.
Growing up, the two-time Olympic gold medalist just couldn’t beat a certain someone in Scrabble, Boggle or the card game UNO.
Grandma always won. She even playfully kept the scorecards around as proof.
It’s a warm memory Shiffrin has of the person she affectionately called “Nana,” who died Oct. 22 at 98.
Along with this one: Her grandmother watching her race a World Cup event in person for the first time at Killington, Vermont, three years ago. Shiffrin won that day and tears filled her eyes when she hugged Nana.
Her grandmother will be in Shiffrin’s thoughts during this weekend’s races at Killington. She’s always close to Shiffrin’s heart.
“I have a million memories,” Shiffrin said of her grandmother, Pauline Mary Condron, who played tennis, was an avid bowler and of course always a big fan of skiing. “They are all incredible.”
Like her breakfasts (“best breakfast in the world,” Shiffrin boasted).
Or the time Nana tipped over in a kayak years ago and lost her glasses. Shiffrin’s mom/coach, Eileen, frequently recounts that story (“I was so young but it’s so cute when my mom tells the story!”)
Or how Nana ALWAYS won at board games.
“She loved to keep track of the score and save them with the games,” Shiffrin said. “If we left the game out on the table when we weren’t playing, she would randomly open it up and look over the scores – and remind everyone how often she won.”
These days, Shiffrin wins about that often on the slopes.
Last weekend in Levi, Finland, she set the World Cup record for most slalom wins by any ski racer. The 24-year-old from Colorado earned her 41st career slalom victory to top Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, who won 40 slaloms between 1974 and 1987. Shiffrin amassed her total in just seven years.
With her victory in Levi came another prize – a reindeer to add to her growing herd. She named the previous ones Rudolph (2013), Sven (2016) and Mr. Gru (2018).
The name of the newest member? Ingemar, naturally – a tribute to Stenmark.
All these records she’s breaking still catch her a little off guard. More could possibly be attained at Killington.
With 61 career World Cup wins, she’s one away from tying Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second on the all-time women’s list. The women’s record of 82 is held by the retired Lindsey Vonn. The overall mark of 86 belongs to Stenmark.
“I still find it a little insane that I’m at the point in my career to be surpassing any of these records,” Shiffrin said. “More than anything it just makes me smile to know I’m living my dream as a little girl of being one of the best in the world.”
Shiffrin can’t help but marvel at being one of the “veterans” on the circuit these days. It’s hard for her to compute.
“I’m not old, but I am still considered a veteran even though sometimes I still feel like a rookie,” said Shiffrin, who’s aiming for her fourth straight World Cup overall title this season. “Every time I see a new young athlete have a breakthrough performance I think, ‘Hmmmm, what am I going to do to have another ‘breakthrough’ performance?’”
Know this about Shiffrin: She doesn’t reflect on past accomplishments. She’s looking forward to stay a step ahead of the competition.
“I still haven’t been able to ‘process’ my first podium, or my first win, or my first world champs or Olympic gold,” said Shiffrin, who’s slated to compete in Saturday’s giant slalom and Sunday’s slalom. “These milestones seem to just melt together into more things that I can’t seem to process so I’ve sort of stopped trying.
“But I’m also OK with that because I’d rather enjoy the moments that I’m living now or look to the future instead of dwell on the past.”
Being back at Killington rekindles so many powerful emotions. It’s a place where she’s won slalom races in 2016, ’17 and ’18.
It’s hard to top that first time Nana was able to attend. Her grandmother had a warm seat to watch her win.
After the race, Nana was taken outside to congratulate her granddaughter.
Nana’s smile. Their embrace. It’s a moment Shiffrin will always cherish.
“It was so fun. Such a nice celebration to have all the people that I love the most right there,” Shiffrin recounted. “Seeing my Nana’s face right after my race, getting to hug her, hearing her voice, it just put everything in perspective and that made the whole day so, so much sweeter. It was so incredible to have her there.”