The August edition of ELLE features two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Mikaela Shiffrin, as she talks in depth with writer Rose Minutaglio about topics such as mental health, performance pressure, and trauma. After crashing and DNFin in her three marquee events at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, Shiffrin is using her experience to remind us that no one—not even an Olympian—is immune to mental health issues.
Mikaela Shiffrin is used to steering through twists and turns. But nothing could have prepared the champion Alpine skier for the last two years: the sudden death of her father, a debilitating back injury, and a positive COVID-19 test that forced her to miss some World Cup races. Then, in one of the most shocking sequences in the sport’s history, Shiffrin was disqualified from not one, not two, but three races at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. After stumbling through the slalom, her signature event, she veered off to the side of the course, took her skis off, and bowed her head as cameras zoomed in.
“Everybody experiences the hard days when it’s difficult to keep a positive attitude, and you just kind of need to sit down and cry,” Shiffrin says. “Except, for me, it all became a very public thing.”
At that moment, on top of an Olympic mountain, Shiffrin bottomed out. In the past, she might have concealed her burnout with platitudes about being mentally tough or pushing through the pain. This time, Shiffrin knew that in order to move forward, she needed to look back. “I’m a different person than I was,” she says, “and I didn’t want to hide what I’m feeling anymore.”
By sharing honestly, Shiffrin joins the ranks of major female athletes in recent history who’ve shined a light on once-taboo subjects like mental health, trauma, and performance pressure. “It’s scary,” she says, “because it shows vulnerability. But there’s no reason to feel shame anymore.”
Shiffrin has become a spokesperson for mental health since the tragic loss of her father Jeff in 2020, then dealing with the isolation of COVID-19 for two years. During the 2021-22 Olympic season, Shiffrin started the season off strong, with a win at the FIS Ski World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, then struggled with nagging back pain that had her sidelined from training before falling to COVID and having to quarantine for 10 days in the middle of the busiest period of technical races over the holidays, and went into the Olympics completely exhausted, only to fail on the world’s stage.
However, Shiffrin handled the failure with grace and ended up prevailing by finishing the season with a strong push at the final World Cup races to earn herself the biggest annual prize in ski racing—her fourth overall World Cup title.