Shiffrin talks about watching Biles deal with Olympic stress

Feb 1, 2022, 2:39 AM | Updated: Feb 2, 2022, 4:25 am
FILE - United States' Mikaela Shiffrin checks her time at the finish area of an alpine ski, women's...

FILE - United States' Mikaela Shiffrin checks her time at the finish area of an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Kronplatz, Italy, Jan. 25, 2022. Empathizing with other athletes’ frank conversations about mental health got Shiffrin thinking about what awaits her at the Beijing Olympics. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti, File)

(AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti, File)

Alpine skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin was paying attention when gymnastics superstar Simone Biles opened up about being burdened by “the weight of the world” and sat out a string of finals at the Tokyo Olympics six months ago.

Shiffrin was listening, too, when swimming superstar Caeleb Dressel revealed, after finishing first in five races at the Summer Games, how “terrifying” it was to confront “so much pressure in one moment; your whole life boils down to a moment.”

Observed Shiffrin: “He won all of the gold medals that were in Tokyo and, like, STILL felt that way.”

Empathizing with other athletes’ frank conversations about mental health got the 26-year-old from Colorado thinking about what awaits her at the Beijing Olympics, where the first of what could be five individual races for Shiffrin is next Monday’s giant slalom, an event she won at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

There’s the physical aspect of what she’ll need to do on the slopes. What she’ll need to do before competing to prepare. What she’ll need to do afterward to recover. And then there’s the psychological side of it all, a lot of which comes down to absorbing or deflecting the anxiety and stress that derive from expectations emanating from everywhere for someone successful enough to own three Olympic medals, three World Cup overall titles and six world championship golds.

“Everybody expects, every time she steps in the start gate — no matter the event, no matter the preparation, no matter anything — that she’s going to win the race. And that’s an unreal expectation. She’s dealt with that her entire career, to a certain extent, but obviously, more recently, in the last few years that she has shown dominance,” said Mike Day, Shiffrin’s main coach with the U.S. ski team.

“It’s something, clearly, we need to be aware of. It’s a lot of pressure to bear, being the face of the Olympics or the face of a nation during an international event like this,” Day said. “We are trying, and have always tried, to provide a consistent atmosphere that’s comfortable for her and something that she knows everybody in that circle has her back and will take care of her when needed. And that’s, you know, more or less all the time.”

In a video interview with The Associated Press, Shiffrin discussed what she calls “pressure-adders.”

These can be situations or what she reads or hears via traditional media and social media. There are also the people she divides into two categories: One “bubble,” to use her word, is comprised of complete strangers (“Whether somebody is saying, ‘I hope you crash!’ or they’re saying, ‘Please win!'”), and the other includes Shiffrin herself, along with those closest to her: coaches, U.S. teammates, friends, family.

Those in the latter group “love to watch it when I ski well. It’s very exciting when I win. So you know that there’s going to be some level of disappointment if those things don’t play out in the ideal way,” Shiffrin told the AP. “And then you add, on top of that, (this is) the Olympics and this one moment in your athletic career that is ‘supposed’ to go right, because you’ve been working your whole life. … And the chances of that happening are so low.”

Her mother, Eileen, who also serves as a coach, sees up-close what Mikaela goes through as they travel the ski circuit together.

“I have not been the perfect ‘role model-parent-coach,’ and I am still trying to find the balance. I could sometimes lose sight of the most important thing — Mikaela’s mental and physical well-being and happiness — in the middle of the chaos of a season, when it seemed that the most important thing was just getting the job done,” Eileen wrote in an email to the AP. “It has taken a blowup per season for us both to re-evaluate what we are doing. At those times, I do think it’s important that I am her mom, because that’s what makes me realize I have been pushing too hard and she is not thriving under it, so we need to reset and let her be happy.”

Awareness about, and concern for, mental health is still relatively new in elite sports.

The world is only just starting to learn about the sorts of concerns the people they cheer for, or against, deal with and how widespread such matters might be.

“What I always say is that we are athletes, not machines. So, it’s OK to make mistakes. We all have our weaknesses. We all get uncomfortable at times. Make errors. Have bad days,” said Marta Bassino, a 25-year-old from Italy who won the 2021 World Cup giant slalom title. “We’re not robots. We’re human beings, when you get right down to it. And so at major events, where the pressure and expectations are high, there’s a lot of tension.”

River Radamus, a ski racer from Colorado who turns 24 during these Olympics, described the phenomenon this way: “The pressure is always there, and you live with it, and you let it drive you. But also, you can’t let it dominate you, can’t let it take over your mentality.”

This is how Shiffrin thinks some folks view certain participants at the Olympics: “It has to be gold or else that’s a huge disappointment.”

For Biles, Shiffrin realized, “It even went a step beyond that. It wouldn’t have been a ‘disappointment;’ people just didn’t even consider it a possibility. And what I know from that kind of pressure is: It is not easy to win. Ever.”

Wrap all of it up, she continued, and the Games themselves are “not really an enjoyable process overall.”

Yes, Shiffrin acknowledged, there are wonderful snippets. Memories to cherish for a lifetime. And, yes, those make everything “worth it.”

“But it’s not like rainbows and sunshine and butterflies and everything that people sort of say,” Shiffrin said. “They’re like, ‘Wow, that looks like it was so much fun!’ And you’re like, ‘Well, it was fun to cross through the finish line and, in the next five seconds, see the green light (signaling the fastest time) and comprehend that. That was a fun thing.’ And the rest of the day — the whole rest of the day — was really, really pretty stressful and uncomfortable.”

___

AP Sports Writers Pat Graham in Copper Mountain, Colorado, and Andrew Dampf in Modena, Italy, contributed to this report.

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE - Caeleb Dressel, of the United States, celebrates his gold medal in the men's 4x100-meter medley relay final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo. Two-time Alpine skiing gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin has been thinking a lot about the stress and pressure that gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Dressel discussed during last year's Tokyo Olympics. And Shiffrin knows that she will face similar burdens when her races at the Beijing Winter Games. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
            
              FILE - Simone Biles, of the United States, stand on the mat during the warm up prior to the artistic gymnastics balance beam final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. Two-time Alpine skiing gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin has been thinking a lot about the stress and pressure that gymnast Biles and swimmer Caeleb Dressel discussed during last year's Tokyo Olympics. And Shiffrin knows that she will face similar burdens when her races at the Beijing Winter Games. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
            
              FILE - United States' Mikaela Shiffrin, left, poses for photos with her mother Eileen after winning an Alpine Skiing World Cup women's Slalom, in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, March. 9, 2019. Awareness about, and concern for, mental health is still relatively new in elite sports. Eileen, who also serves as a coach, sees up-close what Mikaela goes through as they travel the ski circuit together. (AP Photo/Marco Tacca, File)
            
              FILE - United States' Mikaela Shiffrin waits at the start of an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Kronplatz, Italy, Jan. 25, 2022.  Empathizing with other athletes’ frank conversations about mental health got Shiffrin thinking about what awaits her at the Beijing Olympics. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti, File)
            
              FILE - United States' Mikaela Shiffrin checks her time at the finish area of an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Kronplatz, Italy, Jan. 25, 2022. Empathizing with other athletes’ frank conversations about mental health got Shiffrin thinking about what awaits her at the Beijing Olympics. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti, File)

AP

FILE - A for sale sign outside of a home, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Towson, Md. On Thursday Fred...
Associated Press

Average long-term mortgage rate falls a fourth straight week

WASHINGTON (AP) — The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate fell for the fourth consecutive week and have dropped more than three-quarters of a point since hitting a 20-year high last month. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average on the benchmark 30-year rate dipped to 6.33% from 6.49% last week. A year ago […]
10 hours ago
Associated Press

As COVID-19 becomes routine, Africa readies for next crisis

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Building on the experience of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries are strengthening health systems to prepare for the next health crisis, the World Health Organization’s Africa director said Thursday. At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, some of the 54 countries in the continent of 1.3 billion people […]
10 hours ago
Associated Press

Sri Lanka’s Parliamant approves budget amid economic crisis

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament approved a budget on Thursday that includes reforms aimed at improving the country’s finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis. The 5.82 trillion rupee ($15 billion) budget includes a 43 billion rupee ($117 million) relief package for those affected by the crisis. The […]
10 hours ago
Deborah Sampson, left, a nurse at a University of Washington Medical Center clinic in Seattle, give...
Associated Press

FDA clears updated COVID-19 vaccines for kids under age 5

U.S. regulators on Thursday cleared doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than age 5. The Food and Drug Administration’s decision aims to better protect the littlest kids from severe COVID-19 at a time when children’s hospitals already are packed with tots suffering from a variety of respiratory illnesses. Omicron-targeted booster shots made […]
10 hours ago
Tanita Hilliard sits for a portrait on Oct. 25, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. When a young man live strea...
Associated Press

Memphis nonprofit puts money behind drive to curb gun deaths

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tanita Hilliard made a wish the night a shooter livestreamed himself driving around Memphis, firing at people: “I hope it isn’t one of my babies.” She paused the video to study the young man. “I know that face,” she thought. She sent a screenshot to some former students. Is this him? […]
10 hours ago
Associated Press

Korean firms plan $4 billion-plus battery plant in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) — Hyundai Motor Group and a South Korean battery maker say they will jointly invest $4 billion to $5 billion in Georgia to build a new plant northwest of Atlanta that would supply electric batteries for Hyundai and Kia electric vehicles assembled in the United States. Hyundai and SK On, a unit of […]
10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Shiffrin talks about watching Biles deal with Olympic stress