When I’m left sifting through the rubble, struggling to find any remnant of hope in the disaster that has befallen me, I try to remember advice my father never stops giving me: “You can’t control the things that happen to you, but you can control how you react to them.”
It’s maddening in its simplicity because we always relive our failure in our minds — if only I had done this, or said that, or thought to plan for X then this never would’ve happened. But oh my god, holy shit, it happened… again.
Mikaela Shiffrin failed to finish her third event, skiing out on the 10th gate during the slalom portion of the Alpine combined race. She sat in fifth after the downhill segment and was in a good position to earn her first podium of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
There was just something about this course that never clicked with the favorite who didn’t medal in any of the competitions she was supposed to win in what was supposed to be a record-breaking Olympics for the 26-year-old from Edwards, Colo. She has one final event, the mixed team parallel slalom, and she’ll need a lot of help from her team if they’re to win and help her break the record for most career Olympic golds won by a US alpine skier. If they fall short Friday, she’ll have to wait a long four years for a shot at the next Winter Games.
It will be hard if not impossible for Shiffrin to get over what’s happened in 2022, and she even admitted to still feeling shook by the slalom course in an interview with NBC before it snagged her ski one more time.
“I’m not feeling totally confident with the slalom,” she said. “I mean, I have a recurring image of myself skiing out on the fifth gate again, 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 winning. It’s a byproduct of the participation medal era. We demand these athletes care about winning so much that it consumes their entire being like winning consumed Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.
OK, cool, you hear that, Mikaela? Never ever let it go. Use this experience as motivation. Pin a picture of the slalom course to a dart board and whip throwing knives at it. Spend the last four years of your 20s obsessing over your screw ups, and you will have your rightfully deserved Olympic glory.
Or, say fuck it and do whatever works for you. It happened, it sucks, find an actual ski area, shred some powder, and try not to think about it. Both approaches can work, and everyone is allowed to react to bad shit that happens to them in their own way.
Failure feels awful, especially when you know the exhilaration 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 anybody has failed that hard with so many opportunities, maybe in the history of the Olympics,” Shiffrin said following the event. “But I’ll take it. I mean, it is a joke. That’s fine. I just really selfishly wanted to have a good run of slalom down this hill, and I’ll be left wanting there.”
She isn’t the first or last athlete with regrets, and the last thing any athlete who has skied against Shiffrin during her up-until-recently impeccable career would say about her is that she’s a “joke.” If you want to call something a joke, Beijing not getting real snow until halfway through the Games is a joke. Not holding trial events at hastily constructed ski areas before the Olympics is a joke.
There have been several crashes, and former athletes have criticized the conditions. Shiffrin hasn’t blamed the snow because she’s clearly putting all of this on her shoulders. It’s admirable, and if that’s how she feels, that’s fine. If she rips the conditions then it looks like she’s not taking responsibility for her poor skiing. Not taking all of the factors into consideration when reflecting on the outcome in private would be a disservice, though.
We all have our faults, and occasionally shit is our fault, but the hardest follies to overcome are the ones that don’t have an explanation. As she has all Olympics, Shiffrin tried to offer insight into her mindset amid such a calamitous experience.
“I think there’s a lot of positive, and a lot of positive even in my skiing. I had some really great — some of the best skiing I’ve ever done here in Beijing, in the training, in the downhill over the last week, in my slalom, even today. In the race, in the moment, when it counts, then I didn’t make it to the finish, and that’s never happened in my entire career, so I don’t understand it. But there was so much positive that’s happened in the last couple weeks despite how much it really stinks.
“I don’t know, sometimes you just have to take it, I guess. Try to fix it the next time. I don’t know what I’m supposed to fix. That’s the frustrating thing. I don’t think there’s something to fix. It just went really, really wrong.”
There’s no debating these Olympics have gone really, really wrong for Shiffrin. And now, she’s nearing the juncture when the only thing left to do is figure out the right way — for her — to react.