Let no one ever question Mikaela Shiffrin’s desire again.
Fighting a chest cold that left her coughing so hard her mother suggested maybe she drop out, Shiffrin blazed through the second run Saturday to win the slalom title at the world championships for the fourth time in a row. No man or woman, in any event, had ever done that.
It was Shiffrin’s second gold of the world championships, following her win in the Super-G on Feb. 5, and her third medal at worlds after a bronze in the giant slalom. Only the Alpine powerhouses of Norway and Switzerland, with four medals each, have collected more hardware so far.
“My mom said to me before the second run, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ because I was coughing so hard my stomach was in spasms and I couldn’t breathe, and then I kept coughing more,” Shiffrin, her voice raspy, told NBC after the race.
“At what point do you say, ‘No, I can’t do 60 seconds of skiing.’? I’m out here. Whether I win or not, I just want to try. When she said you don’t have to, then I was sure that I wanted to.”
That enough for you, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller and anyone else who still harbors doubts about Shiffrin’s heart and will? If watching her lie on the snow in the finish area, hacking and wheezing for almost 30 seconds as she tried to catch a breath, doesn’t convince you of Shiffrin’s ferocity, nothing will.
“The final bit of the course, it was like I was skiing without breathing,” she said.
Like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, Shiffrin is a once-in-a-lifetime talent who achieves in ways never seen before. Still a month shy of her 24th birthday, she rewrites the record books every time she leaves the starting gate.
Nothing seems to be beyond her capability. The tech races – slalom and giant slalom – remain Shiffrin’s specialty, but she’s become a threat in the speed events as well, with World Cup wins in every discipline currently contested.
Amazing as those accomplishments are, though, they’re mind-numbing, too. Rather than appreciating the magnitude of what Shiffrin is doing, the assumption is that it’s easy, so she’s constantly asked to produce more.
Last weekend, Vonn and Miller both threw shade at Shiffrin for her decision to skip the combined event and downhill to focus on the slalom and the GS.
“I’m a racer, and I want to race in every single race that I possibly can,” Vonn said. “I respect her decision. It’s obviously her decision. But she has the potential and 100 percent the capability of getting a medal in all five disciplines. So I don’t personally understand it.”
Said Miller, “Her group around her, they make decisions that they feel are best. … It’s not for me to criticize those, but I would have her racing for sure.”
The suggestion being, of course, that Shiffrin isn’t a fierce enough competitor. That she’s somehow soft.
Shiffrin has her own way of doing things, and it doesn’t always square with the expectations. But it works for her, and she owes no apologies or explanations for it.
The greatest athletes are also the fiercest competitors, digging deep for a resolve others simply don’t have. Jordan had his flu game. Tiger won the U.S. Open on one leg. Biles delivered perhaps the greatest performance ever by a gymnast less than 24 hours after being in the hospital with a kidney stone.
Shiffrin had every reason to skip Saturday’s second run and she didn’t. Not because she wanted another gold medal, but because her will to compete is as vast as her talent.
Let no one ever think differently again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour