Five-ring Circus

Mikaela Shiffrin Is a Sleepy Skiing Genius

USA's winner Mikaela Shiffrin poses on the podium during the victory ceremony for the women's Giant Slalom at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang on February 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BERNETTI        (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. winner Mikaela Shiffrin poses on the podium during the victory ceremony for the women’s Giant Slalom on Thursday at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

On Thursday, American ski racer and newly minted giant slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin announced she will not be competing in the Super G skiing event on Saturday at the Winter Olympics. Shiffrin is the best Alpine skier in the world, and though her expertise lies in the slalom events, she may well have been a medal contender in the Super G (aka the super giant slalom), a discipline that’s known as more of a speed event than a precision one. But a string of wind-related, schedule-compressing postponements in Pyeongchang ultimately led Shiffrin to abandon her ambitious plans to go for five gold medals in five separate Alpine events. “We’re just going to get her a day of rest and then go do the downhill and combined,” said Shiffrin’s mother, who is also her coach. This makes sense. Mikaela Shiffrin values rest more than anyone else on the planet.

Shiffrin is the world’s sleepiest 22-year-old. The virtues of a good night’s sleep are very well known, and we’re all aware that we should get a full eight hours’ rest per night. But eight hours per night is for bronze medalists. Shiffrin strives for a full 10.

In countless interviews and social media posts, Shiffrin has announced her fondness for not being awake. She has said her prized possession is her bed. “Hmmm.. I wonder if sleep likes me as much as I like sleep? #randomthoughts #professionalsleeper,” she wrote on Facebook in March 2014, a month after winning gold in Sochi. (The Olympics can indeed be exhausting.) In 2016, she Instagrammed an image of herself napping at a training facility. “Down for the count. Is it nap time yet?” she asked. (Weightlifting can indeed be exhausting.)

Shiffrin doesn’t limit her somnolence to the nighttime. Whenever she can nap, she does. “She’s famous on the World Cup circuit for taking naps, on command, in chairlifts and on the floors of ski lodges,” wrote Time magazine. She told Savannah Guthrie that, in 2017, her mom woke her up from a nap to inform her that she’d clinched the 2017 World Cup title. “She texted me: ‘Are you awake?’ I was like: ‘Ugh, yes, now I am.’” Her ski teammates apparently refer to her as “Sir Naps a Lot.” This is one very tired woman.

Shiffrin is a sleepy skiing genius, and perhaps her twin passions go hand in hand. During Thursday’s giant slalom final, she looked wholly refreshed and alert. On her final run, Shiffrin screamed as she left the gate and carried that energy throughout the course. Her turns were impossibly tight and controlled. Her approach was appropriately aggressive. Her confidence in her own skills was apparent. Shiffrin was the second-to-last skier to fly down the course before the event concluded, and the woman who followed her, Italy’s Manuela Moelgg, looked like she was sleepskiing by comparison.

Skiing is an unpredictable sport, but Shiffrin makes victory feel inevitable. In a discipline where it’s typically impossible to be dominant—where margins are in the hundredths of a second, and where variable conditions can give a skier an advantage if she happens to start early or late in the day—Shiffrin is approaching Tiger-Woods-in-the-1990s levels of achievement.

It’s hard not to think her training regimen has something to do with her sustained excellence. In 2014, I wrote about how, while growing up, the then-18-year-old Shiffrin limited the time she spent on the racing circuit in order to focus on mastering fundamentals, and how this prepared her to dominate the racing world as an adult. For Shiffrin, sleeping like a literal baby is just another way of recharging her body, blocking out extraneous distractions, and prioritizing the task at hand. Anyone who thinks they can beat her should keep on dreaming.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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