ARE, Sweden — Mikaela Shiffrin couldn’t breathe. She felt like she was suffocating. She had no energy, and self-doubt had set in.
Then came some words of encouragement from her coaches: “The reality is you have to push for 60 seconds. Everything else doesn’t matter. Just 60 seconds.”
They were the sweetest 60 seconds of her career.
Fighting off a lung infection, Shiffrin delivered her most resilient performance yet to capture the slalom title at the world championships and become the first Alpine skier — male or female — to win the same event at four straight worlds.
The drama added another layer of legend around the 23-year-old American.
“I was just not feeling very good for the whole day,” she said, her voice noticeably croaky, “except for the 60 seconds that it mattered.”
After crossing the finish line, Shiffrin collapsed to the snow for a while. Anna Swenn Larsson finished 0.58 of a second behind Shiffrin to take silver.
Photo: Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom / Getty Images
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Shiffrin was a world champion for the fifth time — and the second time at these championships after winning the super-G on the opening day of competition in Are.
She barely had any energy to celebrate. “A testament to her grittiness,” Shiffrin’s coach, Jeff Lackie, said, “and what she was able to accomplish in that second run was nothing short of incredible.”
This was the kind of situation that Lindsey Vonn, Shiffrin’s idol, used to revel in: Battling adversity, proving the critics wrong, coming from behind.
Now Vonn is retired, Shiffrin is center stage — the poster girl of Alpine skiing whether she likes it or not.
This is some way to kick off the post-Vonn era. Shiffrin woke up with a terrible cold, feeling sick, and with trouble just breathing. Rumors started to swirl about her feeling under the weather, and they were confirmed after the first run of the slalom in which she finished in third place — 0.15 of a second behind Wendy Holdener.
Shiffrin had a chest cold, her team said, and her energy level was low. She watched her rivals — Holdener, Swenn Larsson, eventual bronze-medalist Petra Vlhova — in the first run and thought: “I don’t know how much more I have to give, how much more I can push.”
Shiffrin said her illness might have taken away any nerves before the second leg, which — hours after the race — was just a blur to her. The most vivid memory she had was from halfway down the course, when she felt she “ran out of oxygen.”
In fact, despite everything, the second run was close to perfection. It was the fastest by 0.62 of a second.
Tears flowed from Shiffrin after Swenn Larsson came down the hill to win Sweden its first medal of these championships. Shiffrin cried at the flower ceremony, and again in media interviews afterward.
“I’m not sure why I was crying quite a lot more than I usually do, and it’s quite embarrassing,” Shiffrin said. “But it is emotional for a lot of reasons. I can’t explain every reason right now. It would take much too long.”
She walks away from these championships tied with Ted Ligety as the American with the most gold medals at the worlds, moving ahead of Bode Miller, another of her childhood idols.
With seven medals at the worlds, she is one off the American record held by Vonn.
Steve Douglas is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Shiffrin-skis-through-sickness-to-sweetest-13622965.php.