Blustery situations meant that the Mikaela Shiffrin show got here to Pyeongchang a number of days late. On Thursday, nonetheless, the 22-year-old idol of the ski world placed on a gap act that was well worth the wait, ripping her technique to victory within the big slalom. Such had been the expectations after that preliminary triumph, that when Shiffrin completed fourth within the subsequent day’s slalom race with out committing any apparent blunder, there was a way of bewilderment, not least from Shiffrin herself.
One rationalization for this surprising glitch within the ski matrix is that Shiffrin is attempting to be a generalist in a period that encourages specializing in only one or 2 occasions. Primer for the non-skiing crowd: Shiffrin has been the highest slalom racer on the earth since 2013. Recently, nonetheless, she introduced her intention to additionally conquer snowboarding’s vaunted “speed” occasions: the downhill and tremendous big slalom. This is uncommon, to say the least. (Bode Miller fanboys would possibly beg to vary, however, for my cash, solely 2 ski gods have concurrently owned each the slalom and pace disciplines—the Austrian Toni Sailer and Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy, each of whom gained each occasion on the ‘56 and ‘68 Olympics, respectively.) It’s an ambition so audacious that journalists have had a troublesome time placing it in context. According to New York Times sports activities author Bill Pennington, “it is virtually impossible to draw parallels between other sports and the challenges facing an all-event alpine skier.”
Let’s do it anyway.
Since snowboarding and working are each particular person pursuits that the mainstream American media solely covers in any depth through the Olympics, it doesn’t really feel like an excessive amount of of a stretch to counsel that the heroes of those respective sports activities is likely to be kindred spirits. Has there ever been a runner who has come near conducting one thing much like what Shiffrin is trying to do on the slopes? What would such equivalence even appear like?
An all-event alpine skier should grasp 4 disciplines: slalom, big slalom, super-G, and the downhill. Assuming we apply the identical normal to skilled working, the query arises whether or not anybody has been one of the best on the earth in 4 particular person Olympic working occasions.
As it seems, there are 2 runners who’ve managed to win particular person Olympic gold in 4 totally different Olympic races—albeit not in the identical 12 months. It occurred a century in the past, when cross-country was still an Olympic sport. In Stockholm, in 1912, Hannes Kolehmainen, the unique “Flying Finn,” gained a gold medal within the 5,000- and 10,000-meters, in addition to within the particular person cross-country race (there was additionally a crew class for cross-country, the place he gained silver). Kolehmainen would add an Olympic victory within the marathon in Antwerp in 1920. That similar 12 months noticed the arrival of the subsequent Finnish marvel, Paavo Nurmi, who gained the 10,000-meters and the cross-country race. Bucking the development of immediately’s runners who have a tendency to maneuver up in distance as they become older, Nurmi would win particular person gold medals within the 1,500 and 5,000-meters on the 1924 Paris Games.
A reader would possibly object that it’s preposterous to equate doubling up within the 5,000 and 10,000 with conquering the alpine ski spectrum from the slalom to the downhill. After all, on the subject of method, working remains to be simply working, whereas the all-event skier should possess whole mastery over the fast, managed turns of the tech occasions, whereas additionally having the ability, to not point out the sheer nerve, to bomb down an ice hill at most velocity. Tucking right into a soar at round 80 m.p.h., 1 assumes, is the form of factor you have to observe.
But maybe the challenges of coaching to be an “all-event runner”—nonetheless you need to outline it—are simply extra delicate. If versatility in snowboarding is about discovering the balance between agility and power, for distance runners, the tradeoff comes with pace vs. stamina. A 5,000-meter specialist wants to have the ability to crush the ultimate 400 meters with a view to be one of the best (see: Mo Farah), whereas a world-beating marathoner successfully should be capable of race a 10Okay after hammering for 20 miles (see: Shalane Flanagan). As with alpine snowboarding, the place bulking up for the downhill means sacrificing among the litheness required for the slalom, it’s laborious for a runner to enhance flat-out pace whereas concurrently churning out 130-mile coaching weeks. Something’s gotta give.
The hypothetical runner model of Mikaela Shiffrin that I’m attempting to conjure up right here must be some loopy hybrid of athletes who’re already whole outliers amongst their world-class friends. Imagine a girl who may bust out a 3:50-something within the 1,500-meters like world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba, and in the identical 12 months dip beneath 2:20 within the marathon, à la Paula Radcliffe. It feels perverse to even counsel it, however, in a way, that’s the form of vary Shiffrin is trying to exhibit in her snowboarding.
That stated, Mo Farah has come near conducting one thing vaguely comparable on the boys’s aspect. Ironically, it was in 2 races that the ten-time Olympic and World Championship gold medalist had no shot of profitable. In July 2013, Farah ran a European file of three:28.81 within the 1,500 meters in Monaco—on the time making him the sixth-fastest human ever on the distance (although solely the 2nd quickest in that individual race). Then, in April 2014, he completed the London Marathon in 2:08:21. Producing these performances inside 1/2 a 12 months of one another is past astounding.
Of course, whereas a 2:08 marathon would have been in world file territory a technology in the past, immediately it’s nothing particular by the stratospheric requirements of elite males’s distance working; Farah solely completed 8th that 12 months in London. If Shiffrin decides to compete within the downhill subsequent week, chances are high she’s going to end higher than that. She would possibly even win. If she does, it will likely be an achievement that defies comparability.