When it comes to Mikaela Shiffrin, even her competitors have to acknowledge how dominant the 22-year-old alpine skier is. "All of us want to ski faster than her, but she is on another level," Sweden's Frida Hansdotter told the . "We need to train harder and ski faster."
Set to compete tonight at the 2018 Winter Olympics, the downhill prodigy is on a hot streak, perfectly positioned to sweep up more than a few gold medals. Here's what you need to know about skiing's biggest and brightest rising star.
Born to two former ski racers in Vail, Colorado, Shiffrin was set for success from an early age. In fact, she first buckled into ski boots at just 3-years-old. Five years later, she moved with parents Eileen and Jeff Shiffrin and brother Taylor Shiffrin to rural New Hampshire and took to the slopes in Vermont during her formative training years. Her mom (and long-time coach) first home-schooled her before enrolling her in Burke Mountain Academy, a boarding school geared towards skiers.
As soon as she turned 15, Mikaela was out on her first World Cup tour. A month later, she became the youngest skier ever to win a U.S. national championship.
Rise to Dominance
Mikaela marks all of her helmets and skis with the acronym Always Ski Faster Than the Boys. Her longtime slogan puts into perspective how insanely dominant she really is. Mikaela wins her races by multiple seconds in a sport typically decided by tenths or hundredths of that. She won her first World Cup slalom races at 17. It took Lindsey Vonn three more years to reach that milestone — and she's the most decorated female ski racer of all time.
When Mikaela competed at the Sochi Olympics, took home a gold for Women's Slalom, becoming the event's youngest champion ever at just 18.
Four years later, Mikaela isn't slowing down. Between her frequent cat naps ("I am a professional sleeper," she ,) and adorable , she reached 40 career wins this year after on the world cup circuit. Her celebrity in the skiing world has also earned her millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements.
Performance in Pyeongchang
While Olympic hardware this year almost seems like a given, the real question is how many medals will she win. Mikaela was slated to start competing on Monday in the giant slalom, but high winds postponed the event to Thursday. Then on Wednesday her strongest event, the slalom, also got pushed back to Friday.
The increasingly tight schedule presents both problems and advantages for the gifted skier. The giant slalom and slalom races are the more "technical" of the alpine skiing events, Mikaela's strong suit. For the uninitiated, these include tighter and closer turns between "gates," or groups of poles paces a few yards apart. They also combine two runs for a collective time.
Besides competing on consecutive days, Mikaela's schedule could get even busier if she decides to enter the speed events: downhill and Super-G. These disciplines only use a single run to determine the final standings, with fewer gates to slow competitors down. There's also a super-combined (one downhill and and one slalom race, added up to a combined time) and team events that could up her medal total, but Mikaela hasn't committed to any additional races yet.
The main obstacle is rest: she would have little time to prepare and train for her races, unlike her fellow competitor Lindsey Vonn, . Competing in potentially five events in nine days instead of 12 takes a toll, even in a sport frequently beset by weather delays.
That said, calmer conditions often benefit the strongest skiers (like Mikala) since it's less likely a random tailwind will favor another competitor, explains. "A fair race is what you want," said U.S. Ski Team head women's coach Paul Kristofic. "If you run in unstable conditions, it can go in your favor or it can go against you." When you're the current favorite to win, that's a chance you don't want to take.
At Sochi, Mikaela openly admitted of her dream to win five gold medals, acknowledging that it "sounds really crazy." No Olympic alpine skier has ever managed to walk away with more than three, so pulling it off in PyeongChang with these kind of hindrances would make the feat even crazier — but not impossible.
Watch Mikaela kick off her Olympic bid on Thursday, February 15, at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC.