The best part about Mikaela Shiffrin being the winningest skier of all time is that she is someone who doesn’t care about accomplishment.
He was wondering about her 87 World Cup victories, of course, and humbled to be in the same company as Ingemar Stenmark, Lindsey Vonn and some of the other names below her on the list. He overwhelmed so many people, incl athletes he admires from other sportsbecame invested in his pursuit of Stenmark’s decades-old records.
But the record doesn’t matter nearly as much as the work behind it. The number of wins didn’t matter to what he did and how he felt until he crossed the finish line.
MORE:Mikaela Shiffrin makes history, breaks Lindsey Vonn’s record for World Cup skiing wins
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“When I was at the start gate, both running, I was so hyped for skiing so fast. I was just like, ‘I want to race this. Not for the 87, just because I want to race it,'” said Shiffrin on Saturday after winning her 87th World Cup race, a slalom in Are, Sweden.
“I’ve been talking this entire time about how I don’t like the emphasis on the numbers and I can’t really tell you what the number means because it wasn’t my main priority or focus and … I was just like , I guess we’ll find out if I’ve been honest with myself this whole time,” he said. “To get an 86 yesterday and get out there today and still ride with the same nerves and anticipation, that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.”
We love sports for the possibilities they offer. The transcendent moments that make championships and titles. Unique performances that leave you in awe of what the human body and spirit can do. Even a mortal takes pleasure in knowing today’s hard work will always be surpassed tomorrow.
But sports get tarnished when we get too caught up in the outcome, and we’ve seen too much of that darker side lately.
Alabama will play for the SEC men’s basketball tournament title Sunday because A coach puts his team’s record above doing the right thing. Tiger Woods, enabled the better part of his life by his unique talent, continues to show himself as less than a person. The NFL is repetitive women are humiliated. FIFA turns a turn a blind eye to human rights abuses as long as the check is big enough.
Shiffrin is the cure for that. He recognizes victories are meant to be earned. He handles his failures with the same grace as his successes.
Above all, he makes no mistake about who he is.
Shiffrin was always someone who enjoyed the process more than the prizes. When he says he wants to be “the best,” he means it him best. He will die of any flaw or shortcoming until it is gone, and will do what he does well until it is even better. He loves the grind of honing his craft, and enjoys testing that practice against the adrenaline and unpredictable conditions of a race.
The wins and the records are just a byproduct of all that.
“The motivation has never been about this, about the record, about these numbers. It comes before that. It’s the turns I make before I win the race,” said Shiffrin. “That’s the feeling I want to have, yesterday the same run and today the same run. That’s the most special thing I’ve ever felt, and it happens even before you cross the finish line.”
That’s why the Beijing Olympics were so disappointing.
Didn’t win any medals – that was someone else’s disappointment. Shiffrin’s crush is that he can’t keep up what he’s doing in practice. He can’t trust his work anymore and, what’s worse, he doesn’t know why or how to fix it.
The way he handled it then, answering every question after every race, was a lesson in both character and perseverance.
But so is the way he’s rebounded this season.
Shiffrin has been in a fishbowl in recent months as she grew closer to Vonn and then Stenmark. Whenever he’s asked about his pursuit of the all-time wins record, however, he says doing things the right way, keeping his focus on his skiing.
Anything less would be both a disservice to himself and a disrespect to the record and all who played a part in it.
“It’s hard to win, even once or 87 times,” Shiffrin said. “Even today. I had nothing left to accomplish and I still had this feeling, this adrenaline, anticipation of what might happen. That’s what we do it for. That’s what we live for, that’s why we race.
“It’s hard to feel that and still do it. Whether it’s once or 87 times, it doesn’t matter,” she added. “It’s special to be a part of it.”
It would be decades, if ever, before another skier came close to Shiffrin’s record. Interestingly, the greater achievement is that he did it the right way, staying true to himself and reminding us what sport really is.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.