For Ingemar Stenmark, all the fuss about Mikaela Shiffrin as she approaches his record of 86 World Cup wins is irrelevant.
Because the 66-year-old Swede thinks that the American is already on a different level.
‘She’s much better than me. You can’t compare,” Stenmark said in an interview with The Associated Press. “She has everything. She has good physical strength, she has good technique, a strong head. I think it’s the combination of everything that makes her so good. And I’m also impressed that she can ski well, both in slalom and super-G and also downhill.
“I could never have been so good in all disciplines.”
While all of Stenmark’s 86 victories in the 1970s and 1980s came in the technical disciplines of slalom (40) and giant slalom (46), Shiffrin’s 85 wins are, yes, primarily in slalom (52), giant slalom (19) or parallel ( 5), but also in super-G (5), downhill (3) and combined (1).
One of Shiffrin’s three world championship medals this month was in super-G with silver.
Stenmark knows the numbers well, as he likes to follow Shiffrin’s races.
“I watch most of them,” he said by phone from his home just outside Stockholm last week. “To become such a good skier, you have to like skiing, and she has good contact with the snow, a good feeling. She can adapt to all kinds of different snow conditions.”
After winning three medals in her four World Championship races, Shiffrin returns to action this weekend in Kvitfjell, Norway, where she plans to compete in a super-G, a downhill and then another super-G on respectively Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Then Shiffrin has a giant slalom and a slalom in Are, Sweden, on March 10-11.
Would Stenmark attend the races in Are if there is still a chance for Shiffrin to match or break his record?
“No, I’m not going. I’m sorry about that. But of course I’ll watch on TV,” said Stenmark, explaining that he doesn’t want to pay too much attention to Shiffrin when top Swedish skiers like Olympic giant slalom champion Sara Hector are competing.
“That’s why it would be a bit strange for me to go to Are to celebrate Shiffrin when we also have the Swedish girls,” said Stenmark. “If it had been a different place, it would have been easier.”
Shiffrin won her first World Cup race in Are in December 2012, took two gold medals in the Swedish resort at the 2019 World Cup and took a total of six victories there.
“I heard she likes Sweden, but maybe she likes Norway more now, because she has a Norwegian boyfriend,” said Stenmark, referring to Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the circuit’s top downhill skier, with whom Shiffrin already has a number of years in a relationship.
While Stenmark hasn’t attended a race since Lindsey Vonn invited him to her career final at Are in 2019, he’s drawn to Shiffrin’s methodical approach to skiing and – as someone known for his reserve – appreciates her introverted personality.
“I don’t know her personally, but she seems to be a very (nice) person,” Stenmark said.
Shiffrin shows as much deference to Stenmark as she does to her.
“I would say the name means more than the number,” said 27-year-old Shiffrin of Stenmark. “He is an absolute legend in skiing. And no matter what I achieve, these kinds of terms, “the best of all time” or the numbers – all of that is something for me to discuss.
“The thing for me about sport is that it gives people a reason to be inspired by whoever they choose to be inspired (by),” Shiffrin added. “So whatever I do, it’s a bit of a moot point. And that’s how I feel about Ingemar. His name will go down in history as a legend of the sport that people will remember forever.”
Stenmark, who won his last race in February 1989 in Aspen, Colorado, has a long history with American skiers, having been rivals of the Mahre brothers – Phil and Steve – during his racing days. Then Vonn approached his record before injuries shortened her career to give her 82 wins.
“It’s not a very big sport in the US when you compare it to American football and baseball and the other (sports). But there are a lot of good skiers,” said Stenmark.
Stenmark and Shiffrin competed in vastly different eras, with many more races – plus more disciplines – now available to Shiffrin.
Huge strides have also been made in ski equipment since Stenmark retired from racing.
“It’s all completely different, but I liked it the way it was when I was racing. The only thing I miss are the carving skis,” he said, referring to the newer, hourglass-shaped skis that make turning less challenging. “I think skiing is easier now than when we were racing, but winning might be harder now because there are so many (top) skiers. If you make a small mistake, it’s hard to win.”
While Shiffrin has made her fair share of mistakes – see her performance at last year’s Beijing Olympics when she failed to finish three of her five individual races and failed to medal despite huge expectations – she still wins a whopping 35% of her races.
“And I think she can win over 100,” said Stenmark. “It depends on how many years she goes on. But at least 100.”
Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf
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