PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite convinced Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic career is done.
“Whenever I hear anybody say something about this,” Shiffrin said Friday, “it’s like, ‘most likely,’ ‘probably,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘we’ll see,’ ‘not sure.’ I’m like, ‘Knowing Lindsey, I don’t believe her.’”
And with that, Shiffrin let out a big laugh.
She is, without a doubt, the heir apparent to Vonn as the leader of U.S. ski racing. They were the only two members of the country’s Alpine team to earn a medal at the Pyeongchang Games – and the only two to hold news conferences a day after the sport’s last two individual events.
First came Vonn, 33, wearing her downhill bronze medal. After she left the room, it was time for Shiffrin, 22, whose gold from the giant slalom and silver from the combined dangled from her neck.
Vonn spent much of her session taking questions about her, um, extensive experience – “You’re not getting any younger,” was the way one reporter put it, to which the skier replied with a smile, “Come right out and say it, why don’t you!” – and the emotions of her (presumably) last Olympics.
Then Shiffrin discussed what she called the frustration of dealing with schedule changes that contributed to a fourth-place finish in her top event, the slalom, and forced her to enter only three of five races.
When asked about being Vonn’s successor, she was deferential.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m taking over something for the sport. I don’t know if I could fill Lindsey’s shoes, the way that she has worn them,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to do my best to help the sport grow in whatever way that I can. The best way that I can do that, as far as I see right now, is just to ski my best and to keep taking ski racing to a new level.”
Shiffrin also was asked about what sort of advice she might have received from Vonn when it comes to taking over as the face of Alpine skiing in the United States.
“I haven’t had a lot of advice about what to do because, first of all, I don’t think Lindsey sees herself as being done yet or passing the baton,” she answered. “And I don’t see myself as taking the baton.”
Shiffrin is now what Vonn once was: a multiple Olympic medalist in her 20s with a bright future.
After Vonn won a gold and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the assumption was she would go on to add medal upon medal to her career total. Instead, she was forced to miss the 2014 Olympics after tearing knee ligaments.
So after an eight-year wait, Vonn stepped back on the stage, but has said this would be her last Olympics. As it is, she became the oldest woman to win an Alpine medal.
Vonn said the woman who took the gold in the downhill, good friend Sofia Goggia of Italy, wrote a note trying to lobby for a return in 2022.
“I told her … if I physically could continue for four years, then I probably would, as long as I considered myself still a competitor,” Vonn said. “But four years is a really long time. I told her that. She said she’s going to keep trying to convince me.”
In the meantime, there are other goals Vonn will pursue before retiring. She reiterated she is “not going to stop ski racing until I break” Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record for most career race wins. She has 81; he had 86.
“I think next season,” Vonn said, “I can get it done.”
She also intends to pursue a chance to compete against men, something she’s sought for years.
The sport’s governing body is supposed to consider her request in a few months, but if that doesn’t work out, Vonn said she would think about trying to set up an exhibition race.
All of that will be put on hold for a bit, though.
Instead of joining the skiing circuit when it resumes in Switzerland next weekend, Vonn will wait until the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14-18, to try to overtake Goggia for the season downhill title.
“I need a break,” Vonn said. “I need a moment to breathe. I’ve never actually had time after an Olympics to enjoy it, so I’m going to.”
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