YANQING DISTRICT, Beijing: Mikaela Shiffrin was expected to cement her position at the top of her sport at the Beijing Games, but after not being able to finish any of her races so far, her story echoes that of fellow elite athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka at the Tokyo Games.
But while gymnast Biles and tennis player Osaka said that the pressure and media attention had become too much and weighed on their ability to perform at their best, Shiffrin said that she could handle the pressure and had much to be optimistic about.
The 26-year-old American even thanked journalists for their kind words after her aborted slalom.
"It's been an okay couple of days but still tough because you feel like this moment is building and building and building and you feel a bit weighed down by it, but I'm okay to feel that way. It's taken a lot of years and I'm not scared to feel a little weighed down by some expectation anymore," she said.
Biles did not finish her scheduled competitions at the Summer Games due to a sudden and dangerous disorientation in midair, later saying that mental health was more important than sports.
Osaka, who has said that she suffered from depression, had pulled out of other big events before Tokyo to avoid the media which she said was affecting her mental well-being. She eventually lost to a much lower ranked player in Tokyo.
Biles' and Osaka's actions received praise for reminding people that sports stars are also human.
"My whole intention building up, this whole season, since this summer, was to ski these races aggressively. That's what I was doing. Problem is, you have to finish, and that's obviously my main issue right now apparently, and that's never been an issue in my entire career," Shiffrin said.
"So I feel like there's a lot I can analyse about it, but my goal was to push, and I did that and maybe I pushed a little over the limit. Maybe that's because of the pressure, it's probably better to ask some psychologist about that or everybody is going to have an opinion anyway. Honestly, I'm at a loss, so it's hard to really know what exactly went wrong."
Shiffrin travelled to Beijing as a three-time overall World Cup champion and with three Olympic medals already under her belt. But she also still mourns the death of her father in an accident in 2020.
"I would really like to call him. So that doesn't make it easier and he would probably tell me to just get over it, but he's not here to say that, so on top of everything else, I'm pretty angry at him too," Shiffrin said, with a laugh amid tears.
In addition to her sporting achievements putting her in the spotlight, media attention has also focused on her relationship with fellow alpine Olympic medallist Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, who claimed bronze in the men's super-G on Tuesday.
"Despite everything that I'm feeling, if you kind of look around, it's a pretty beautiful day and I have incredible team-mates here. One of them (Ryan Cochran-Siegle) got a silver medal yesterday. My boyfriend is here, he got a bronze," Shiffrin said, gazing at the sky over the Xiaohaituo mountains.
"There's so much to be optimistic about ... I have three medals. Those are still back home in my closet."