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Mikaela Shiffrin breaks the record for most alpine skiing World Cup race wins

Mikaela Shiffrin of Team United States reacts during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Slalom on Saturday in Are, Sweden.
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Mikaela Shiffrin of Team United States reacts during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Slalom on Saturday in Are, Sweden.

Updated March 11, 2023 at 11:32 AM ET

Mikaela Shiffrin, 27, won her 87th World Cup race on Saturday by hundredths of a second, breaking the overall career World Cup victory record.

With this victory, Shiffrin cements her place as one of the greatest skiers — and athletes — of all time.

Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark set the previous record for career race wins on the alpine skiing World Cup at age 32 in 1989. Shiffrin tied this record Friday before breaking it Saturday to become the winningest alpine skier in history.

If she stays healthy and keeps racing, she could top 100 World Cup wins by the end of her career. She has three more races at next week's World Cup finals.

This victory came 12 years to the day after Shiffrin's first World Cup race in the Czech Republic at age 15. She won her first World Cup race at 17 at the same place in Sweden, where she set the world record Saturday.

In an interview in late February, she told NPR's A Martínez, "As much as winning feels great, winning ski races is like 5% of what I actually do." She said the day-in-day-out work of training happens all year, "and you dream about the race wins. But at the same time, that's such a small, small part of it."

Shiffrin has made the podium at the World Cup 136 times, more than half of the times she has raced.

This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity. NPR's Tom Goldman and Amy Held contributed reporting.


Interview excerpts

On the paradox of trying to win

Sometimes in a string of races, when it goes really well, it's easy to let my mind wander and think about how great things are going and how I hope they keep going great. And as soon as I start thinking that, I have a tougher race and it brings me back down to Earth. The more you actually win, the more you realize how much work and effort it takes to win and to stay there. And it's a daily decision for me right now: Am I willing to do this work today or not? So far I haven't run into many days where I'm not willing to do it, if any.

Normally, if I'm really on point and I'm skiing my best, a majority of the time it results in a win. It's just that there are races I've won over my career where I didn't feel like I skied my best. And you can kind of fake it and think, "Well, that was great, it was a great day. I won and everything." But it's like you got by with it. You just barely got through. That's going to come up and catch you in the next race. If you let yourself get away with a lower standard of skiing, somebody else is going to come catch you and beat you probably consistently. So you have to keep that standard high.

On self-confidence and winning

I feel like confidence is not really part of it. That's kind of an unpopular opinion, because everybody, for my entire career, has always said, "You should have more confidence." I've had people tell me they would think I would have more self-esteem. Basically, I should have more confidence, and the difference between me winning and not winning is just simply confidence. And I really don't buy into that train of thought. The races that I've won, it's not been because of confidence. It's been because I feel self-assured in my skiing. If I do my skiing, it will probably go well, somewhere on the spectrum of success.

But I do not feel confident in what's going to happen. In fact, if you asked me about any given race, I normally think I'm not going to win the race. No matter what I accomplish in my career ... somebody out there is going to say something about how I'm still not good enough. No matter what I do, I'm not going to be good enough. And even over this last World Championships, winning three more medals and racking up the total to 14, I think, there are still people saying like, oh, well, this wasn't good or that wasn't good, or she didn't get the Olympic medals.

On being relatively unknown in the United States despite her achievements as one of the greatest alpine skiers ever

It's a little bit of a double-edged sword. In professional sports, being successful tends to mean that you come with some level of notoriety. If I for instance was based in Europe, I wouldn't be able to go to the grocery store without getting stopped five to 10 times. People in my hometown know, of course, it's just the hometown thing. But if I were to go to some major [U.S.] city, it's not likely that I'm going to get stopped that many times. So there's a level of privacy that I do get to enjoy. But for ski racing, it means that we have a ways to go in terms of increasing viewership of the sport, which brings in more sponsors, which brings in more money. And really, in the end, it allows other athletes to get more resources to do what I've been able to do through my career.

Because ski racing, it's not the NBA, it's not football. It's not on the level where athletes are able to make enough money to actually live their lives based on their careers. Most almost every single athlete, every single ski racer you talk to, will not have to have a second career because they want to, but they will have to have a second career out of necessity. And many are starting their second career during the ski racing career because there's just there's not enough income in it to really actually survive.

I'm in a really lucky position, but the whole goal would be to make it more possible for more athletes. So that's what I mean when I say a double-edged sword. I love to have my own privacy, but I also feel like that ends up hurting the potential for athletes to grow up in the sport and to enjoy it the way I've been able to.

On gender parity in professional skiing

I feel a certain level of pride representing a sport where the prize money is equal. Over the course of the season, there's no discrepancy in prize money. And that's something that kind of happened, it kind of just happened in ski racing. It wasn't something that we had to specifically fight for in my career.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Simone Popperl is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. She joined the network in March 2019, and since then has pitched and edited stories on everything from the legacy of burn pits in Iraq, to never-ending "infrastructure week," to California towns grappling with climate change, to American alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin's ascendance to the top of her sport. She led Noel King's reporting on the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Steve Inskeep's reporting from swing states in the lead up to the 2020 Presidential Election, and Leila Fadel's field reporting from Kentucky on the end of Roe v. Wade.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.