Ingemar Stenmark’s unbreakable skiing record just got matched by Mikaela Shiffrin.
The American won a giant slalom on Friday to equal the Swedish great’s record of 86 World Cup victories, which he set more than three decades ago.
When Stenmark retired from World Cup racing 34 years ago to the day — on March 10, 1989, a week before his 33rd birthday — his mark was widely considered unbreakable.
Lindsey Vonn, Shiffrin’s former teammate, came close 30 years later but retired after 82 wins. Vonn’s last World Cup race was a super-G in January 2019 — a race won by Shiffrin for her 54th victory.
Four years later, Shiffrin overtook Vonn and has now matched Stenmark, three days before her 28th birthday.
Here is a closer look at the facts and figures behind Shiffrin’s and Stenmark’s shared record.
ROAD TO GLORY
Timewise, Shiffrin was faster to get to 86 victories.
The American needed 11 years, 11 months, 27 days after her first top-level race on March 11, 2011, to get the record. It took Stenmark 15 years, 2 months, 11 days between his World Cup debut in December 1973 and his last win in February 1989.
By the number of races they competed in, Stenmark was faster — at least according to official statistics, which say the Swede had 230 World Cup starts, compared to Shiffrin’s 245.
However, the database of the International Ski and Snowboard Federation is lacking information from some events in Stenmark’s era because skiers who competed in races but failed to score World Cup points have not been not registered.
Therefore, Stenmark’s exact number of World Cup starts is unconfirmed. His exact number of victories is beyond doubt, though.
Ski racing has vastly changed between Stenmark’s era and Shiffrin’s — in quantity and quality.
Stenmark’s debut World Cup season in 1973-74 lasted only three months and included 21 races; Shiffrin’s current season started in October and has 38 races scheduled through next week.
Professionalization and commercialization have changed the sport drastically over the decades. The design of skis is under constant development and courses are prepared differently, making ski racing faster and more competitive.
Safety regulations have been adapted accordingly. Nowadays it seems unthinkable that Stenmark raced for most of his career wearing just a knit hat.
SPECIALIST VS. ALLROUNDER
In Stenmark’s first season, the World Cup circuit consisted of only three disciplines: slalom, giant slalom and downhill. The combined event with a downhill run and a two-leg slalom legs was introduced in the mid-70s, and the super-G in 1982.
Not that it made much difference to Stenmark, a technical specialist who stuck with his strongest events of slalom and giant slalom throughout his career and only had a handful of starts in other disciplines. All his World Cup wins came in giant slalom (46) and slalom (40), helping him rack up three overall titles.
Shiffrin, on the other hand, also started as a tech specialist but ventured into speed racing from her fifth season on the World Cup circuit.
Shiffrin has raced, and won, in six different disciplines: slalom (52), giant slalom (20), super-G (five), parallel (five), downhill (three), and combined (one). She won her fifth overall World Cup title this season.
For most skiers, it’s common to change their equipment supplier at least once during their careers. For Stenmark and Shiffrin, so far, it’s not.
Stenmark bought his first pair of Elan skis when he was 13. He still raced with the Slovenian brand when he entered the World Cup circuit four years later — and kept doing so until his retirement.
Shiffrin’s story is similar. The American was already using skis from her long-term supplier, Austrian-based manufacturer Atomic, when dominating the field at youth races.
“She’s much better than I was. You cannot compare,” Stenmark said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think she can win more than 100.”
Shiffrin, though, feels like she will never truly overtake Stenmark, no matter what the numbers say.
“His legacy is synonymous with ski racing,” Shiffrin said. “Everybody, if they know anything about ski racing at all and even if they don’t, they know Ingemar Stenmark. I don’t think that’s something I can surpass. He set the standard for what ski racing has become.”
Eric Willemsen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/eWilmedia
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