I know I’m one of the few sportswriters to jump on my keyboard to riff Mikaela Shiffrin Breaks All-Time Winning Record — winner #87 in Åre, Sweden, and passing Ingemar Stenmark on Saturday – but I wanted to post this as a reminder that Olympic success is kind of bullshit. The last image the sports world had of Shiffrin was his sobs after crashing his way out of the chinese rinkhalf-covered ski mountain at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
This is an outlier and a unique. Its domination resumed as soon as it found courses and conditions worthy of World Cup skiing. Yet the casual fan is not locked into niche sports. Olympic medals were ringz culture before we even knew ringz culture existed. Imagine if players were only allowed to win championships every four years. Those other three don’t matter, because that event is the only one that matters.
Pundits said Lionel Messi needed a World Cup win to cement his GOAT status, and we agreed instead to appreciate that he has enough awards and gear to fill a building. In sport, everything must be classified, measured and sorted in its place. The purpose of sport is competition, and everyone is either a winner or a loser.
If that’s all that matters, then why do we have Hall of Fame or All-NBA teams or All-Star games with players who don’t have titles? The reasons for watching sports and playing them are not the same. If the contestants were successful, they would put the brakes on the opposition and the public would be disinterested at halftime.
The reason we watch sports is to see who wins, but also for drama, storylines and world-class athletics. If it was just the result, you would just wait for the ESPN app to tell you the final. We want to enjoy greatness, awesome talent. Zion Williamson dunks. Bo Jackson runs.
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And Mikaela Shiffrin tearing up an alpine course.
An Appreciation of Professional Winter Athletes
The reason I care about Shiffrin is because my favorite sport (activity?) is snowboarding. Sitting on the elevator and seeing someone go in and out of mach five trees like a well-trained James Bond look-alike is so much fun. I achieved very high speeds depending on the app on my phone, but I also ran the tracks that Shiffrin and Co. line it up straight, and that’s no joke.
Same thing for the X Games folks. There’s no way to contextualize the size of those jumps and the steepness of the terrain until you see it in person. The mental toughness it takes to do the feats they do – inches from hospital beds at every turn – is a fucking badass. And that’s how I would describe Shiffrin.
She’s a fucking badass. The fucking badass. She’s out there competing against only herself. Very few of its competitors even come close.
So don’t let the medalz culture sway you, because she’s the sport’s winningest skier and will become the GOAT when she hangs up her ski boots.