The support began pouring in immediately from the likes of Simone Biles and Lindsey Vonn when U.S. Olympic star Mikaela Shiffrin sat on the snow for 20 minutes in devastation after the heavy gold medal favorite skied out of her second straight race in Beijing on Tuesday.
Shiffrin had just started her run in the slalom, an event she has won at a historic rate in her career, when she missed the fourth gate and ended her run. The stunning mishap came after she had crashed in the giant slalom in Beijing on Sunday night.
Vonn, 37, a retired skiing legend who won a gold medal in the downhill at the 2010 Winter Games, could empathize with the weight of immense expectations that Shiffrin has faced in these Olympics.
Lindsey Vonn on skier Mikaela Shiffrin: ‘There’s no room for error’Feb. 9, 202203:35
"I definitely think there’s a lot of emotions, and she’s obviously really upset, as she should be," Vonn said on TODAY Wednesday. "If I were her, I wouldn’t make any rash decisions. I think she just needs to take a minute and really think and take a deep breath and be around her mother and her boyfriend, her teammates, and just feel the support of everyone and not think the worst.
"Again, this is really heartbreaking to see, but she’s so talented, has had such a storied career, and this does not define her career in any way," Vonn continued.
Vonn tweeted a message of support for Shiffrin on Tuesday with a photo of a dejected Shiffrin sitting with her head on her knees on the course.
"Gutted for @MikaelaShiffrin but this does not take away from her storied career and what she can and will accomplish going forward," Vonn wrote. "Keep your head high."
Shiffrin's struggles under the glare of the spotlight brought to mind the journey of superstar Olympic gymnast Simone Biles at last year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Biles entered as prominent face in the Games and a heavy gold medal favorite, and ended up withdrawing from multiple events while sharing her mental health struggles to show the human side of athletes under the crushing pressure of expectations.
Biles tweeted three heart emojis to Shiffrin on Tuesday.
Shiffrin spoke about those expectations with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt ahead of the Olympics.
"You’re expected to win and and you’re expected to be sort of invincible," she said. "That’s when the armor cracks, so I’m just going in and like well, I’m just going to take off the armor now because it’s not going to do me any good."
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Shiffrin is also still grappling with a painful loss. She shared on TODAY in October that she considered ending her skiing career following the sudden death of her father in 2020.
The 26-year-old from Colorado is already a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion, making her one of the most accomplished skiers in history.
"It's so shocking because she's so consistent," Vonn said. "I just don't think anyone saw it coming. I think one thing to keep in mind is that in ski racing, everything happens so fast. There's no room for error ... in ski racing, it can be over in a few seconds. That's a normal part of ski racing, unfortunately it's not normal for her, so she just really needs to find a way to hopefully put that behind her and move forward."
Also among those who sent support were American skier Breezy Johnson, who did not compete in Beijing because of a knee injury, and retired ski racer and Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso.
"We try. It’s never guaranteed," Johnson wrote on Twitter. "But for me winning is about putting your heart into something that might not go your way. It’s about giving it your all even though circumstances might not allow you to win in the end. It’s about the fight! @MikaelaShiffrin @usskiteam #winner"
Shiffrin has won 47 World Cup races in the slalom, more than any other male or female, but her confidence appeared shaken in a heartbreaking interview with reporters after Tuesday's mistake in her signature event.
"Makes me second guess the last 15 years," she said while fighting tears. "Everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality."
"I think what she was trying to articulate there is she’s always been confident in her skiing, she’s always had a game plan and executed it, and it’s always worked out in her favor," Vonn said on TODAY. "And so she had that same game plan, she felt like she was pushing the limits, executing, and it didn’t work out, and so because she’s been so consistent, she’s not used to not finishing with that great game plan."
Shiffrin's boyfriend and fellow Olympic skier, Norway's Aleks Kilde, also shared a message of support for her on Instagram Tuesday.
"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!" he wrote. "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!!"
Shiffrin still potentially has three more races to make a run at a medal. The next race is the women's super-G on Thursday night, and it remains to be seen what Shiffrin's plan will be for the rest of the Olympics.
"She just has to keep things in perspective, try if she can to regroup and look forward to the next races," Vonn said. "I honestly have no idea what her decision will be, if she will continue to race or not, but she has the ability to win the remaining three events, so I really hope to see her and (I'm) always cheering for her."