Olympic Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Opens Up About Her 'Toughest' Challenge

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Alexandra Lozovschi

As she gears up to race six events at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin opened up about what is regarded as the "toughest" challenge in her sporting career. Speaking to Outside Online for the outlet's What You Missed segment in late December, the 26-year-old two-time Olympic Gold Medalist got candid about her mental and physical preparation ahead of the major competition that will have the world's eyes fixed on her.

Shiffrin, who's been promoting her Outside App five-part docuseries, Mikaela Shiffrin: Passion and Purpose, on Instagram, also shared how Simone Biles' mental health journey has impacted the way she's approaching the Winter Games, opening up about Olympic pressure and the injuries that derailed her 2021-22 World Cup circuit.

Read all about it below!

Back Injury Aftermath

While she continues to be "optimistic" about her performance in China, Shiffrin confessed that the back injury she suffered early-season has had a big impact on her training for the Olympics.

The athlete, who was planning to hit the slopes hard in Copper Mountain, Colorado, after her World Cup wins in November, has been unable to put in the "double and sometimes triple sessions" that she depended on to "fine-tune giant slalom and hammer some speed volume" in preparation for the six-event Olympics.

"Copper is where I do my glorious overtraining — it’s the place I would go to get everything in, and fix my skiing in every event, and get that repetition and proper training," Shiffrin told Outside Online, sharing that she now feels "behind" in her training.

"Right off the bat I strained my back, and it took me out for pretty much the entire camp. This was supposed to be my most important training block in the buildup to the Olympics," she said.

Mental Preparation

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Physical training aside, Shiffrin is also staying on top of her mental preparation for Beijing.

"You have to be prepared to be exhausted," she said, explaining that "there’s a huge chance that the races will be postponed and then held back-to-back rather than having a recovery or training day between."

"It’s not as much physically hard as it is mentally and emotionally exhausting," said Shiffrin, who experienced a similar scenario at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea.

"It’s hard to prepare for something like that, where you have to be ready to race and then find out it’s been postponed," she continued. "You wake up every day being ready to go on the mountain in race mode. Then, if it’s canceled, you have to be prepared to do it again the next day."

Despite admitting to feeling "very delayed and unsure" about how her performance at the Beijing Games will be impacted, Shiffrin said she was "optimistic that we can start to build back to each event and get the training in."

The Simone Biles Example

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Shiffrin, who was eyeing a five-event Olympics in 2018 but ended up only racing three, also addressed the possibility of withdrawing from some races in Beijing.

"I know how lofty a goal it is to race six events, and I’m not expecting that it will work," she shared. "We will cross that bridge of whether I’m prepared to be a contender in the events that I ski, whether that’s all of the events or if I’m going to have to skip out."

When asked about Simone Biles' decision to bow out of the Summer Games and speak up about her mental health concerns, Shiffrin said she "could definitely relate" to the Olympian.

"I certainly followed the stories around Simone and how she was openly sharing her pressures and the anxiety she felt, even depression, and all of those mental health issues that come out with the insane amount of pressure that’s put on athletes, especially Olympians competing for gold," she said.

Shiffrin, who confessed she found feeling "like you’re letting down your entire nation and that every single person at home is disappointed in you" relatable, said the feeling was a "really isolating and lonely" one.

"You’re just one little person who is trying to compete in your sport and do the best you can, and sometimes it’s really terrifying," she explained.

'Unhealthy' Mindset

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While Biles struggled with the “twisties,” which causes gymnasts to lose air awareness while performing twisting elements, Shiffrin revealed skiers "get our form of the 'twisties,' or vertigo."

"You don’t want to risk flying into the woods and breaking your back, or crashing and tumbling and blowing up your knee or breaking your femur," she detailed. "All of these things have happened, and they do happen. The risks in our sport are very real."

Addressing the "unhealthy" mindset that Olympians face where "people expect that you’re literally going to win or die trying," Shiffrin said this kind of mentality can't be sustained.

"The thing I’m trying to wrap my head around is that I know I’m going to feel that pressure. I’m going to feel some obligation to all of these people, who I don’t even know, to bring home gold so that they can be excited. I don’t want to disappoint them. That’s a huge piece of it," she said.

Facing It 'Head-On'

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By her own admission, Shiffrin's plan to deal with Olympic pressure is "to face it head-on."

"I think it’s undeniably going to be part of [the competition], whether I want to or not, no matter how stressful or uncomfortable that can be," she acknowledged. "Most likely there are going to be a lot of athletes at the Olympics who feel pressure, anxiety, depression — I am going to be feeling it."

Shiffrin added: "A lot of us are going to have success, and a lot of us will have the kind of failures that make you feel like you let your country down. It’s not particularly easy to swallow. I’d rather go in with an open mind about it."