Will Mikaela Shiffrin Be The Youngest Olympian Gold Skier?

Two of the reasons that American Mikaela Shiffrin could become one of the youngest skiers to win an Olympic Gold medal in an alpine event are Jeff and Eileen Shiffrin, her caring and expert skiing parents. A few weeks before she competes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the 18-year-old skier and her parents show correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi the tough yet cautious path that led her to the top level of her sport at such a young age.  Alfonsi’s profile of Shiffrin will be featured on this month’s edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS, premiering Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 10:00 PM on SHOWTIME. 

Following the premiere, 60 MINUTES SPORTS is available at SHOWTIME ON DEMAND, on mobile devices via SHOWTIME ANYTIME and multiple replays on SHOWTIME and SHOWTIME EXTREME.®

The Shiffrins are dedicated skiers. Eileen is a Masters champion and Jeff skied in college, so it was natural to put Mikaela on skis at the age of two. The plan wasn’t to build her into the world champion Mikaela would become 15 years later, when she won the world championship title in the slalom and became the youngest world champion in 28 years. “So many people, particularly in our society, get focused on the result, the end game,” Jeff tells Alfonsi. “I think that is the wrong process.”

The Shiffrins instead wanted to instill in their daughter something deeper than just a burning desire to win.  It’s more than winning says Jeff. “It’s about the dance with the hill… the feeling… if there’s five magical turns in one five-minute run, then I’m kind of like, ‘I want to go back up and do it again.’”

Jeff and Eileen taught Mikaela the “dance” from a young age.  One exercise her mother utilized to perfect her slalom technique was a broomstick drill.  With a broomstick in her hands, Eileen would practice clearing gates with Mikaela in their kitchen. It didn’t seem strange to the youngster at the time. “I didn’t really know anything else. She was like, ‘Mikaela, let’s get the broomstick and practice slalom,’ I was like, ‘Okay, Mom.’”

The Shiffrins enrolled their daughter at the Burke Mountain Academy, where often icy Vermont conditions prepared her for the varying surfaces she would later encounter while competing in Europe. But she wasn’t allowed to compete in all the races her skills qualified her for. Mom and Dad wanted their young daughter to emphasize training, where a typical day for her meant 15 runs, over racing, which meant just two runs. “It’s so much more efficient,” says Mikaela.  “I always felt like if I was racing against girls five years older than I was, then I needed to get five years of experience in one winter of training.”

Even with their daughter in the Olympics competing with the world’s best, Jeff and Eileen still take it slowly with Mikaela, keeping her out of the Super G and the Downhill races at the Games, the two events that require the most speed and present the most danger.  Those races can wait a little longer for Mikaela.  “She’ll be more ready because there have been years… of progression… if I put you in a Ferrari tomorrow and say, ‘open it up,’ you’re going off the road. Sorry… there’s a process,” says Jeff.

Mikaela has been in the big leagues of skiing for a few years now and throughout the big races, her mom was with her, an unusual sight on the World Cup circuit.  Mikaela knows it surprises the competition. “I don’t think there’s ever really been a mom around on the World Cup,” she tells Alfonsi. “You can be surprised over in your corner. I’m going to go win this race.”

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