KRANJSKA GORA – Mikaela Shiffrin is the perfect technical skier. Lindsey Vonn was the ultimate speed demon.
Shiffrin is rarely slowed by physical ailments. Vonn was constantly hurtling herself into the safety nets and breaking bones.
Shiffrin is introverted and sometimes doesn’t even display a fist pump when she wins. Vonn is outgoing and relished celebrating her many victories.
In many ways, the Americans who now share the record of 82 World Cup wins couldn’t be more different.
In others, they are remarkably similar.
Both Shiffrin and Vonn excelled in every discipline of Alpine skiing over various points of their careers, winning races in slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill.
Both spent parts of their childhoods in Colorado and both were or are the best skiers of their generation by far.
On Sunday, Shiffrin matched Vonn by winning a giant slalom for victory No. 82.
Vonn retired four years ago when injuries cut short her attempt to break Ingemar Stenmark’s overall record — among men and women — of 86 wins.
U.S. ski team women’s head coach Paul Kristofic coached both Vonn — at the end of her career — and Shiffrin.
“Both are extremely talented and extremely driven,” Kristofic said. “Both are very much focused on process: how to prepare, how to get ready. No real compromise in checking all the boxes to make sure everything is ready every day. So real professionals.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with two amazing athletes like them. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Vonn’s best event was downhill, the discipline featuring the fastest speeds and the most danger. Of her 82 wins, 43 came in downhill and 28 came in super-G, which is only slightly slower and more technical.
Vonn also won four giant slaloms, two slaloms and five combined races — which add the times from slalom and downhill runs.
Shiffrin’s best discipline is slalom, the most technical event and the one featuring the most rapid changes of direction.
Shiffrin has won 51 slaloms, 17 giant slaloms, 5 super-Gs, 3 downhills, 1 combined and 5 parallels — which feature racers going head-to-head simultaneously down the same slope alongside each other through separate gates.
OFF THE SLOPES
Both Vonn and Shiffrin have been involved in high-profile relationships.
Vonn was dating Tiger Woods when she broke Annemarie Moser-Pröll’s previous women’s record of 62 wins in 2015, and Woods surprised her when he flew in for the celebration in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and showed up in disguise wearing a mask.
Shiffrin and boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, who was the 2020 overall champion, are the sport’s current power couple.
While Vonn was 33 when she reached win No. 82, Shiffrin is only 27.
Shiffrin has competed in 233 World Cup races while Vonn started 395 races.
Vonn and Shiffrin both won four overall World Cup titles — which is considered the greatest prize in the ski racing community — and Shiffrin is on track for a fifth title this season.
Marcel Hirscher holds the record with eight overall titles and Moser-Pröll has the women’s mark with six.
So will Shiffrin end her career as the greatest skier ever?
“The greatest ever is difficult to say,” women’s World Cup director Peter Gerdol said. “We’re talking about soccer now with whether Pelé was better than (Diego) Maradona or better than (Lionel) Messi. It’s different situations, it’s different periods, different conditions, different everything. She’s one of the greatest racers ever, this is for sure.”
Both Vonn and Shiffrin won three Olympic medals. Vonn ended her Olympic career with one gold and two bronzes while Shiffrin has two golds and one silver after leaving Beijing empty handed last year in one of the most disappointing performances of her career.
Vonn and Shiffrin did compete against each other in some big races toward the end of Vonn’s career.
Shiffrin won the silver in combined at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games when Vonn went off course in the second run of her final Olympic race.
A month earlier in the Cortina downhill, Vonn finished second and Shiffrin placed third to mark the only race where the pair ever stood on the podium together. It was the same day that Julia Mancuso, another American standout, retired; and the race was won by Sofia Goggia, who succeeded Vonn as the top downhiller.
“That was kind of like all the generations crossed paths,” Vonn recalled.
Then at the 2019 world championships in Åre, Sweden, Vonn crashed as Shiffrin won the super-G — although Vonn recovered to take bronze in downhill days later in the final race of her career.
HOW HIGH CAN SHIFFRIN GO?
It seems only a matter of time — weeks, perhaps — before Shiffrin surpasses Stenmark with win No. 87. So how many wins can she compile?
“The ceiling,” Kristofic said, “is high.”
Added U.S. Ski & Snowboard President & CEO Sophie Goldschmidt: "I would argue that she has the potential to go down as America’s greatest ever female athlete. What an accolade that would be and very deserving if it happens.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.
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