Alpine skiers explain: “What Mikaela Shiffrin taught me”

Mikaela Shiffrin at the 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships
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Author’s note: Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time. Since making her World Cup debut in 2011, the 26-year-old has tallied 69 wins, third most of any skier in history. Last month at the 2021 World Championships, Shiffrin became the most decorated U.S. alpine skier in world championship history, taking the lead for most career world titles won by an American (6) and most world medals won by an American (11). 

Since I started covering alpine skiing in the lead-up to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, I have often heard other skiers mention – usually in passing – the impact that Shiffrin has had on their own careers. These tidbits are usually sandwiched in the middle of interviews, provided without much context. But I’ve always been curious to know more about what exactly Shiffrin has taught them or inspired them to do. 

So ahead of this week’s World Cup Finals,  I asked several of Shiffrin’s teammates and competitors, as well as her coach, “What has Mikaela Shiffrin taught you?”

Here are their responses, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Nina O’Brien

Member of the U.S. ski team since 2016

“One of the most specific things that Mikaela has taught me is how to approach every race hill. A lot of people think you show up on the morning of a race and you inspect the course and then you make a plan. But one thing I’ve learned from Mikaela is that she really has a plan on how to attack the hill and how to approach that specific track – the night before, the day before, before she even sees the course.

On multiple occasions, she has sat down with me before races to talk about where we are, what the hill looks like, whether it’s steep or flat, and what she thinks about in terms of plan of attack: where you can push and where you maybe need to ski a little bit smarter.

A few years ago – a couple days before the World Cup opener in Soelden – Mikaela brought some of the girls up to the race hill. We hiked up without any of our ski stuff on. And we just took a look at it and the really steep pitch. And she helped us pick a point – somewhere towards the bottom of that pitch – where we could let it go and sort of transition from that steep skiing into pushing on to the flats…  When [I was] inspecting the next day, I visually knew the point where I could start going straight and pushing more. So those little tips are huge.”

Michelle Gisin

Member of the Swiss ski team – Has competed against Mikaela on the World Cup circuit since 2013

“There’s a lot of professionalism in [everything Mikaela does]. At a very young age, she came to the World Cup. She’s even younger than me, [but I started] looking up to her because she had this way of working towards her goals that is extremely impressive… You always want to learn from the best. The way she approaches races – but also training – is extremely impressive to me…. Everything that she [does], it seems that she’s doing it on purpose. I think it’s maybe one of the most important keys to all of her success, because there’s just so much purpose in everything she does.”

Bella Wright

Currently in her first year as a member of the U.S. ski team

“I had a conversation [with Mikaela] in December after Val d’Isere. I had a rough race series there; I didn’t ski like myself. It was my first races of the season and I was very nervous… And she just talked me through how to take notes and learn from it… And what helped me the most is [when Mikaela] told me: ‘Keep your expectations low and your standards high.’

After she said that, I ended up scoring my first World Cup points of this season in St. Anton. I felt like I could trust that I know what to do, but it doesn’t mean I have to go out and win.

There are so many talented [skiers] out there… We’re all competitors. [We’re] friends, but you do want to come down at the end of the day and have the fastest time. And with Mikaela… I have this different relationship. She is so great, and she makes skiing look so effortless. I know it’s not effortless for her, but she just makes it look so beautiful. And then I’ll get on the same course and it’s like ‘Woah, that was not as easy as she made it look!’

So it is so inspiring to see her ski the way she does. I’m like her biggest cheerleader, [Even if I’m] competing against her, if Mikaela does well, I’m happy. I think it’s just because… when someone is as gracious and amazing at skiing as she is, you can’t help but always learn from them and be inspired by them.”

Steven Nyman

Member of the U.S. ski team since 2004

“Mikaela’s awareness and her focus is what stands out beyond everything [else]… [When we’re training together in Copper], I’ll joke with her in the start gate. I’ll yell stuff or tease her, just trying to distract her. And then later in the day, I’ll be like, ‘Sorry if I was annoying,’ and she’s like, ‘Huh? What did you do?’ Her ability to just hone in on what she needs to do – and how she needs to accomplish – it is pretty impressive.

There’s a professionalism and respected approach to every single run she takes. There are a lot of [skiers] that… just do the same thing over and over and over again. And they think the more they ski, the better they’re going to get. It’s easy to go through the motions. It’s easy to ingrain bad habits. And [Mikaela] doesn’t do that. She knows that there’s a finite amount of time that we have on the snow. Every time she goes down, she can either become better, or she can become stagnant, or she can become worse.”

Mike Day

Mikaela’s coach since 2016 

“[Mikaela’s] performance over the past five seasons has been historical. It’s really [shown me] what’s possible in the sport of ski racing, and truthfully for that matter, sports in general.

She’s taught me about process and being process oriented and staying committed to the process, regardless of the results… [What sets her apart] is hard work and persistence; she outworks the competition… And now, I think resilience certainly comes into play with what she’s been through in the past year, and how she’s been able to battle back and stay committed, [always] falling back on the process.

When I started with her, I had an image of what it meant to be a World Cup athlete [in terms of] training volume… So I had a good idea of what I thought appropriate volume was, and then [Mikaela] sort of blew my mind… I think when you’re technically as efficient as she is – and as advanced as she is – you can still produce high volume and also have high quality… So I think she’s really showed me not only what’s possible from a results perspective, but [also] from a preparation perspective, from a learning perspective, from a volume perspective.”

Breezy Johnson

Member of the U.S. ski team since 2014

“One of the major things that [Mikaela] taught me – from a young age – was how to take the sport seriously… When I went to [my] first Whistler Cup, we were rooming together… I’ve always had a very intense outlook on the sport and have always been really driven by my effort… [But] there were conversations [where some people were telling me], ‘Breezy, you need to have more fun and be less serious.’

I remember sitting down and having conversations with the whole Shiffrin family and they were like, ‘You want to serious about the sport. If you want to go somewhere, you have the be serious… and that’s a good thing. That’s something to be applauded.’

That was a really big turning point in my career because it allowed me to realize that those coaches [who told me to be less serious] were wrong… It allowed me to embrace who I naturally was: a somewhat intense person who really wanted to work hard and really wanted to accomplish things… [The Shiffrins] really took me seriously. And they took my dream seriously even though I wasn’t remotely close to Mikaela or even the best of the rest of the heap of people who were there.

There’s is one thing Mikaela never taught me. When I first met her, she could bob her head sideways, like a chicken… She never taught me how to do that, but if she wanted to teach me how to do that now, I’d be down.”

MORE: In these sports, “Equal Pay Day” is years away

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2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like it play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” said Roberts of the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding to the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

2023 March Madness: Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship


Editor’s note: We’ll keep this page updated, so be sure to check back here for winners, scores and next-round details as the tournament progresses.

The bracket for 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship is officially set and defending champion South Carolina earned the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight season. A total of 68 teams will see tournament action, beginning with the “First Four” games on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Round 1 play kicking off on Friday.

On Her Turf has compiled the matchups, sites and schedule for the tournament, which culminates Sunday, April 2 with the title game from American Airlines Center in Dallas.

2023 tournament No. 1 seeds:

  • South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Indiana Hoosiers
  • Virginia Tech Hokies
  • Stanford Cardinal

Last four teams in the tournament:

  • Illinois
  • Mississippi State
  • Purdue
  • St. John’s

First four teams out of the tournament:

  • Columbia
  • Kansas
  • UMass
  • Oregon

RELATED: South Carolina nabs No. 1 overall seed in NCAA women’s basketball tournament

‘First Four’ game schedule

Wednesday, March 15

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11. Illinois vs. 11. Mississippi State (South Bend, Indiana)
    • Winner: Mississippi State, 70-56
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Southern U vs. 16 Sacred Heart (Stanford, California)
    • Winner: Sacred Heart, 57-47

Thursday, March 16

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11 Purdue vs. 11 St. John’s (Columbus, Ohio)
    • Winner: St. John’s, 66-64
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Tennessee Tech vs. 16 Monmouth (Greenville, S.C.)
    • Winner: Tennessee Tech, 79-69

Bracket, schedule* by region 

*Includes scores, game time and TV network, if available


Columbia, S.C.

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. South Carolina 72, 16. Norfolk State 40
    • 8. South Florida 67, 9. Marquette 65
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. South Carolina 76, 8. South Florida, 45

Los Angeles, California

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Oklahoma 85, 12. Portland 63
    • 4. UCLA 67, 13. Sacramento State 45
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. UCLA vs. 5. Oklahoma, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

South Bend, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Creighton 66, 11. Mississippi State 81 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Notre Dame 82, 14. Southern Utah 56
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 3. Notre Dame 53, 11. Mississippi State 48

College Park, Maryland

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Arizona 75, 10. West Virginia 62
    • 2. Maryland 93, 15. Holy Cross 61
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Maryland 77, 7. Arizona 64


Bloomington, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 1. Indiana 77, 16. Tennessee Tech 47 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Oklahoma State 61, 9. Miami 62 (FL)
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 1. Indiana vs. 9. Miami, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Villanova, Pennsylvania

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Washington State 63, 12. FGCU 74
    • 4. Villanova 76, 13. Cleveland State 59
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. FGCU vs. 4. Villanova, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Michigan 71, 11. UNLV 59
    • 3. LSU 73, 14. Hawaii 50
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 6. Michigan vs. 3. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. N.C. State 63, 10. Princeton 64
    • 2. Utah 103, 15. Gardner-Webb 77
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Utah vs. 10. Princeton, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)


 Blacksburg, Virginia

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 58, 16. Chattanooga 33
    • 8. Southern California 57, 9. South Dakota State 62
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 72, South Dakota State, 60

Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Iowa State 73, 12. Toledo 80
    • 4. Tennessee 95, 13. Saint Louis 50
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. Toledo vs. 4. Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Columbus, Ohio

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. North Carolina 61, 11. St. John’s  59 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Ohio State 80, 14. James Madison 66
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Ohio State vs. 6. North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Storrs, Connecticut

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 7. Baylor 78, 10. Alabama 74
    • 2. UConn 95, 15. Vermont 52
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 2. UConn vs. 7. Baylor, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)


Stanford, California

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Stanford 92, 16. Sacred Heart 49 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Ole Miss 71, 9. Gonzaga 48
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Stanford vs. 8. Ole Miss, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Austin, Texas 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Louisville 83, 12. Drake 81
    • 4. Texas 79, 13. East Carolina 40
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. Texas vs. 5. Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Durham, N.C. 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. Colorado 82, 11. Middle Tennessee State 60
    • 3. Duke 89, 14. Iona 49
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Duke vs. Colorado, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Iowa City, Iowa 

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Florida State 54, 10. Georgia 66
    • 2. Iowa 95, 15. Southeastern Louisiana 43
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Iowa 74, 10. Georgia 66

Regionals/Final Four schedule, how to watch

Sweet 16: Friday and Saturday, March 24-25; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Elite 8: Sunday and Monday, March 26-27; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Final 4: Friday, March 31, 7 p.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

Championship Game: Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m. ET (ABC); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — All about the 32 automatic qualifiers