During the 2017/2018 season, Mikaela Shiffrin was the name that played on everyone's lips, and for good reason. At the tender age of 23, she had already done things that many racers spent their entire lives dreaming about.
However, despite her massive accomplishments prior to this season, she has found herself having to come to grips with the fact that she isn't as larger-than-life than she would like to think she is. The question on the minds of every one of her fans is whether 2018/2019 will bring her back into the limelight.
Cortina and The Olympics
Shiffrin has already made a splash in the world of ski racing as being only the second woman in the entire history of the World Cup to win as many races as she has in a single year. She retains the title of being the youngest slalom champion in history, winning at the age of 18 and setting the stage for her future performances.
All of those triumphs made her the darling of the sports press and then the unthinkable happened - she met a hurdle she couldn't cross and for the first time in the short period in which they've known her, Shiffrin underperformed. At Cortina, she made the podium just once, and at the following three world cup showings she didn't even finish, something she denies happening to her before in her entire career.
She did go on to win a gold medal at the Olympics at Hakuba afterwards, but the press had expected far more from her. A single gold medal was a letdown and they let her know it. For an athlete of her stature, this could have been disastrous.
Popularity and The Spotlight
Shiffrin had always been popular with sponsors, despite the fact that their demands on her could have had negative impacts on her athletic aspirations. Still, she persevered, keeping to a rigid training regimen, determined to stand out from the competition. Her relationship with her followers on Instagram was similarly close and her dedication to those posts showed off her human side.
Recently, after the fiasco at Cortina, she has been seen out in public more often - quite a change for the shy girl that she had started off as. Her appearances at the Cannes Festival and the Paris Open have made many sit up and take notice.
Coming into her own
Shiffrin's marketability has gone through the roof, being named one of three athletes in Maxim's Hot 100, as well as being nominated for Nickelodeon’s Kids Sport Choice Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. Adweek even noticed the rise in her popularity, mentioning how she's turning her success into marketing gold.
All of these accolades haven't distracted her from her goal to become a leader in the ski racing arena, and while her rise is decidedly different from others like Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, it is no less surprising. She might not be making the same waves as those venerated stars of the past, but she is certainly making her own indelible mark on the sport she loves.
Expectation and disappointment
Shiffrin's relationship with the press has been a roller-coaster ride, even at the best of times. The sports press is a fickle engine, and while they may have been singing her praises a few years ago as a brand new rising star on the scene, today they are more lukewarm in their treatment of the young ski prodigy.
Part of this is due to the hype and expectations that they had built themselves up to on the run to the Olympics. Sure, she won a gold medal, but she was supposed to have won more than just the one if the press was to be believed.
Again, the shadow of Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn lies heavy on the press, used to the showmanship of these idols. Shiffrin's deportment is far more reserved and the press doesn't much like reserved when it comes to someone with that much talent.
A new season with new challenges
Shiffrin herself has stated that she intends to push forward through this season and return to winning form. She's focused on speed and a new strategy to manage fatigue so that she doesn't face a repeat of Cortina. She intends to set records and win races, and based on what we've seen from her so far she can very well achieve these goals.
She has a long and brilliant career ahead of her. In addition to her ambition and her drive, her strategy in managing herself both on and off the slopes can play a huge part in seeing a return to popularity for Shiffrin in the coming year. We'll be anxiously awaiting the press singing her praises once more as she takes to the alpine slopes to prove them wrong.