How to raise an Olympian, according to the parents of gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesStarting early is key.

• Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin is a favourite in alpine skiing at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

• She also won gold in Sochi in 2014, at the age of 18. becoming
the youngest person to win an Olympic gold medal in the slalom.

• She repeated her success in Pyeongchang, winning the giant slalom.

• Shiffrin’s parents introduced her and her brother to the sport at a young age.

Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin’s interest in skiing didn’t just come out of nowhere.

Her parents – anesthesiologist Jeff and former nurse Eileen – were both avid skiers growing up, and later took up Masters racing.

And they introduced Shiffrin and her older brother Taylor to the sport at the early age. “They had us walking around the living room in these tiny, little, plastic Mickey Mouse skis that you just latched onto snow boots,” Taylor told The New York Post.

Flash forward two decades, and their World Cup-winning daughter is now on the verge of potentially making history at the Pyeongchang Games. She could become the first American woman to win three skiing medals at one Olympics, The Denver Post reported. She’s well on her way already, having won gold in the giant slalom at the 2018 Winter Games.

Shiffrin herself told The New York Times that she doesn’t think there’s a proper way to raise an Olympic champion, in that the “crazy path” she took “could not be replicated.”

Still, it’s interesting to look back at the steps the Shiffrins took to instill killer skiing skills and an intense work ethic in their daughter.

Writing in The New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten declared Shiffrin an “example of nurture over nature, of work over talent.” From an early age, the athlete has been driven to put in the training it takes to become a dominant skier.

Source: The New Yorker, Business Insider

Having introduced both of their young children to the sport, the Shiffrins began to ski together as a family. Both Shiffrin and her brother Taylor have said they never felt pressured to ski. For them, it was often just a matter of following their parents down the slopes.

“It’s not a throw into the deep end, like ok go for it, it’s a gentle progression, like we’re going to develop their abilities, develop their proprioceptive nerve endings and once they learn how to stand on skis and walk on skis, then we can take them out and put them on snow and progress from there,” Taylor told The New York Post.

Source: The New York Post

“We had this concept that there had to be a gradual progression of skill acquisition,” Jeff told The New Yorker.

Source: The New Yorker

As it turns out, the Shiffrins’ technique worked a bit too well, in their daughter’s case. When she was five, local skiing instructors ended up declaring that she was so advanced, they didn’t know which training group to put her in, Sports Illustrated reported. So Shiffrin continued to train with her parents.

Over the years, Jeff and Eileen also sought to instill an intense work ethic in their children —  and to discourage them from relying on talent alone. “The kids with raw athletic talent rarely make it,” Jeff told The New Yorker. “What was it Churchill said? Kites fly higher against a headwind.”

Source: The New Yorker

Shiffrin and her brother ultimately attended Burke Mountain Academy, a Vermont prep school for young ski racers. By 2012, she had made the US ski team. And her parents’ influence didn’t end there —  Eileen ended up accompanying the teenager on the team’s frequent tours, to act as a support system.

Source: Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker

For Shiffrin, an upbringing that focused on early adoption, the gradual acquisition of skills, and hard work ended up setting the stage of the Olympian’s continued success.

Source: The New Yorker, Business Insider, Sports Illustrated

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