As I sift through the rubble, struggling to find any vestige of hope in the disaster that befell me, I try to remember the advice my father always gives me: “You can’t control the things you happen, but you can control how you react to it.”
It’s crazy in its simplicity because we always relive our failure in our minds – if I had done this, or said that, or thought to plan for X, this would never have happened. But oh my god, god damn it happened… again.
Failing to finish her third event, Mikaela Shiffrin skied on gate 10 during the slalom portion of the Alpine combined race. She finished fifth after the downhill segment and was in a good position to take her first podium at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
It wasn’t supposed to be†
There was just something about this course that never clicked with the favorite not winning a medal in any of the competitions she was to win in what would be a record-breaking Olympics for the 26-year-old from Edwards, Colo. She has one last event, the mixed team parallel slalom, and she will need a lot of help from her team to win and to help her break the record for most Olympic gold medals won by an American alpine skier. If they come up short on Friday, she will have to wait four years for a chance at the next Winter Games.
It will be difficult, if not impossible for Shiffrin to process what happened in 2022, and she even admitted that she was still shocked by the slalom course in an interview with NBC before it held her ski one more time.
“I’m not quite sure about the slalom”, she said† “I mean, I have a recurring image of myself skiing again on the fifth gate, so I’m just going to do my best.”
Saying you’re just going to do your best has become a trigger. People see it as a sign that you care more about having fun than about winning. It’s a byproduct of the entry medal era. We demand that these athletes attach such importance to winning that it consumes their entire being, like winning consumes Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.
Okay, cool, do you hear that, Mikaela? Never let it go. Use this experience as motivation. Pin a photo of the slalom course on a dartboard and throw whip knives at it. Spend the last four years of your 20s obsessed with your mistakes, and you’ll have your well-deserved Olympic glory.
Or say fuck it and do what works for you. It’s done, it sucks, find a real ski resort, shred some powder and try not to think about it. Either approach can work, and everyone is allowed to react in their own way to bad things that happen to them.
Failure feels terrible, especially when you know the excitement of winning and have the expectations that come with success, but it doesn’t mean you’re a loser or a joke.
“Oh, man, I don’t know if anyone has failed that hard with so many chances, maybe in the history of the Olympics,” Shiffrin said after the event:† “But I take it. I mean, it’s a joke. That’s fine. I just very selfishly wanted to have a good run of slalom on this hill, and I’ll be left behind. †
She isn’t the first or last athlete to regret it, and the last thing an athlete who skied Shiffrin during her impeccable career until recently would say about her is that she’s a “joke.” If you want to call something a joke, Beijing won’t get it real snow until halfway through the Games it is a joke. Not conducting pilot events in hastily constructed ski areas for the Olympics it is a joke.
There have been various crashesand former athletes have criticized the conditions† Shiffrin didn’t blame the snow because she is… put all this clearly on her shoulders† It’s admirable, and if she feels that way, that’s fine. When she ruins the conditions, she seems to take no responsibility for her bad skiing. However, it would be a disservice not to consider all the factors when considering the outcome in private.
We all have our faults, and occasionally shit is our fault, but the hardest follies to overcome are the ones that have no explanation. Having done all the Olympics, Shiffrin sought to provide insight into her mindset in the midst of such a disastrous experience.
“I think there is a lot of positives, and even a lot of positives in my skiing. I really had a blast skiing – one of the best ski tours I’ve ever done here in Beijing, in practice, last week’s descent, in my slalom, even today. In the race, when it counts, I didn’t make it to the finish and that’s never happened in my entire career, so I don’t understand. But there was so much positive that has happened in recent weeks, despite how bad it really stinks.
“I don’t know, sometimes you just have to take it, I guess. Try to solve it next time. I don’t know what to fix. That’s the frustrating thing. I don’t think there is anything to fix. It just went very wrong.”
There is no doubt that these Olympics have gone really, really wrong for Shiffrin. And now she’s approaching the time when all she has to do is find the right way—for her—to respond.