US ski superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, who can break Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86 World Cup wins this weekend, could “easily” go on to claim over 100 races on the elite circuit, the Swedish legend told AFP.
Shiffrin aims to match the milestone in Friday’s giant slalom and then could break it in Saturday’s slalom on Stenmark’s own home turf of Are no less.
Stenmark, whose record was long considered unbeatable, says he would be “happy” for Shiffrin to make history this weekend.
“It’s so well-deserved. She’s a great racer, she has fantastic technique, she’s so good. And she seems to be a sympathetic person also.
“I’m glad it’s her,” he added, before forecasting she would take her World Cup win haul into triple figures.
“I think easily 100”, said the 66-year-old Swede whose 16-year career spanned the 1970s and 1980s.
“That’s what I thought four years ago, that she would be the first to win 100 races. And I think she can do even more, if she stays healthy”, he said in a telephone interview this week.
Stenmark, who won 46 giant slaloms and 40 slaloms before hanging up his bindings in 1989, said he never paid much attention to his World Cup record.
“I didn’t think much about it… But of course I thought it would be beaten”.
But he never imagined it would last this long.
“No, no, no. That’s a long time,” he said.
Known for his polite but taciturn character during his career, Stenmark is overcome with effusive admiration when Shiffrin’s name is mentioned.
“She has everything. Good physical strength, good balance and she has a strong head.
“She’s so good that the other skiers have to risk more to beat her, and then they make small mistakes. She can ski more safe and still win.”
– ‘Very impressive’ –
Stenmark won all his World Cups in slalom and giant slalom — unlike Shiffrin who has clinched wins in slalom, giant slalom, Super-G, downhill and combined.
“That’s very impressive, because I would have never done that,” he said.
“It was a lot for me to train in slalom and giant slalom, and we didn’t have so many races. The first five years I was competing in the World Cup, there were like 15 races, seven in slalom and eight in giant slalom or something like that,” he said.
“For me it was enough. I needed to train between the races.”
“I don’t know how many races she’s had this winter but maybe 40 races?”
“I don’t understand how she can train in so many disciplines. Or she has a super talent and she doesn’t need training, I don’t know,” he joked.
Stenmark, who retired at 32, said he thought Shiffrin, who turns 28 next week, could compete for at least another decade or so.
“Until 40 I think. But I don’t think she wants to do that.”
Noting that the men often carry on up until their forties, “I think the girls stop earlier because they want to maybe start a family.”
“There are other things in life that are important too, not only skiing,” he said.
Shiffrin, whose performance suffered sharply after her father passed away in 2020, spoke out earlier this year about how a sports psychologist helped her with her mental health, which in turn improved her physical health.
Stenmark said having a strong psyche was “very important” for top performers.
“But also that you have good friends, that your life is okay, that you don’t have to worry about family problems or boyfriends or things like that.”
The Swede said he struggled with a lack of motivation in the second half of his career.
“After 1980, when I was 24 years old, I was fed up with skiing, I didn’t like to race anymore. But I continued for nine more years, without really having the motivation,” he recalled.
As for his record, he hoped to watch Shiffrin beat it this weekend.
“I’m travelling so I don’t know, but I will try to watch. I wish her good luck, and I hope that she breaks my record soon.”