Biles and Vonn rally around Shiffrin after latest Winter Olympics DQ

  • US stars support two-time champion against TV ‘shaming’
  • 26-year-old urged to ‘keep your head high’ after going out

Simone Biles and Lindsey Vonn are among the US sports stars who have thrown their support behind Mikaela Shiffrin as the American Alpine skiing star’s nightmarish start to the Winter Games continues.

Shiffrin, one of the most decorated skiers in history, whose bid for as many as five medals in China has been a cornerstone of the US broadcasting rights-holder NBC’s breathless promotion of the Olympics, has failed to complete either of her two races so far thanks to a pair of highly uncharacteristic errors.

The 26-year-old overall World Cup leader skied out after missing a gate early in her first run of Monday’s giant slalom, ending her Olympic title defence only 10 seconds into her Beijing debut. Then on Wednesday, Shiffrin nearly fell at the fourth gate and was disqualified before the sixth in the slalom, her signature event, which was eventually won by Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

As the dejected two-times Olympic champion sat in the snow on the side of the hill with her head bowed in disbelief for more than 10 minutes, NBC drew criticism on social media for lingering on the shot while other skiers continued their first runs. While the network’s cameras were fixed on Shiffrin, the four-times Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles tweeted a show of support.

Shortly after, Biles retweeted a post by the LGBTQ+ activist Charlotte Clymer, who wrote: “I don’t know, shaming people just because they didn’t perform well at the Olympics feels like the opposite of why we supposedly have the Olympics in the first place.”

Vonn, whose three Olympic medals include a downhill gold in 2010, wrote that she was “gutted” for her longtime US teammate. “But this does not take away from her storied career and what she can and will accomplish going forward,” Vonn tweeted. “Keep your head high.”

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In Biles’s case, the gesture was reciprocal. Eight months ago, when her own decision to withdraw from the Olympic women’s gymnastics team competition and most of the individual programme due to mental-health issues sent shockwaves through the sports world, Shiffrin was among the highest-profile athletes to rally behind Biles.

Another call for empathy came from Shiffrin’s boyfriend, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the Norwegian skier who bounced back from a disappointing finish in the men’s downhill to win a bronze medal in the men’s super-G on Wednesday.

Kilde shared a photo of Shiffrin seated on the hill in anguish after Wednesday’s disqualification and asked his followers to reflect on what it represented. “When you look at this picture you can make up so many statements, meanings and thoughts,” he wrote.

“Most of you probably look at it saying: “she has lost it”, “she can’t handle the pressure” or “what happened?”… Which makes me frustrated, because all I see is a top athlete doing what a top athlete does! It’s a part of the game and it happens.

“The pressure we all put on individuals in the sports are enormous, so let’s give the same amount of support back … It’s all about the balance and we are just normal human beings!!”

A tearful Shiffrin, suddenly bruised by self-doubt, opened up at the bottom of the hill on Wednesday about the weight of these Olympics. “My entire career has taught me to trust in my skiing if it’s good skiing and that’s all that I have to rely on.

“Of course the pressure is high, but that didn’t feel like the biggest issue today,” she said. “So it’s not the end of the world, and it’s so stupid to care this much, but I feel that I have to question a lot now.”

Mikaela Shiffrin casts a long shadow as she skis into the finish area.
Mikaela Shiffrin casts a long shadow as she skis into the finish area. Photograph: Rick T Wilking/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

That has been in line with her transparency over the past few months during a sometimes turbulent run-up to Beijing that included back spasms that limited her preparation in November, a bout of Covid-19 that sidelined her in December and the unknowns surrounding the Xiaohaituo Mountain staging the Alpine skiing programme, where the usual test events that allow skiers to get used to the hill were cancelled due to the pandemic.

She has also felt the absence of her father, Jeff, whose accidental death in February 2020 made her consider hanging up her skis entirely. “Right now, I would really like to call him, so that doesn’t make it easier,” Shiffrin said after Monday’s mishap. “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.”

For now, Shiffrin will look ahead to Friday’s super-G, the speed race which she has never entered in two previous Winter Games but did win at the 2019 world championships. She will also have medal chances in Tuesday’s downhill and on 17 February in the Alpine combined, where she took silver in 2018. History is still in the offing.


Bryan Armen Graham at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre

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