The most exciting sporting rivalry you’ve probably never heard of.
NIMO OMER, narrating:
Hi, I’m Nimo and this is the Sensemaker.
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Today, the most exciting sporting rivalry you’ve probably never heard about.
The Winter Olympics generally have less fanfare than the summer ones. They have a reputation as the awkward younger sibling of sporting events.
In less than four weeks Beijing will present a winter olympics without real snow. Instead most of what athletes will be competing on will be artificial snow.DW News
It’s easy to forget what makes the Winter Olympics so fun – the sports are a joy to watch. Bobsledding, curling, and ski jumping. It’s fast, exhilarating and toe curling at points.
But the Winter Olympics are about more than silly outfits and snow. This year they are home to one of the biggest rivalries in sport. Think Novak Djokovic versus Roger Federer:
Well I hope I made him 20 per cent better player, than what he did to me and my tennis and my career. Of course, he’s one of my two biggest rivals throughout my life. I’ve played mostly with Rafa and Roger, these two guys have definitely made a significant difference in my mind, in understanding my own game and what it really takes to beat them.Novak Djokovic speaking about his rivalry with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
But on a mountain.
American two-time skiing Olympic Gold medalist, Mikaela Shiffrin. And Slovak World Cup alpine ski racer, Petra Vlhova.
So who are these two athletes?
Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova are both Alpine skiers.
Now, on the off chance that you are not a skiing expert, alpine skiing is one of two competitive skiing categories. It includes downhill and slalom skiing – that’s when athletes ski between poles or gates. And it is a seriously dangerous sport. The stakes couldn’t be higher – a third of all skiers suffer a serious injury during the winter season.
For almost a decade Mikaela Shiffrin has been at the top of the Alpine skiing game.
Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin makes speeding down a slalom run looks so easy that’s because she’s done it almost every day since she was five.ABC News
She grew up in a mountain resort town in Colorado. Her parents were both impressive ski racers who have coached her and her older brother. It’s paid off. The official Olympics website calls her “the most dominant athlete in any sport on the planet right now.”
Over the course of a ten year career she has had 71 World Cup victories, 9 world championship medals, and 3 Olympic medals. 2 of those were gold.
Earlier this month Mikaela Shiffrin – after 11 years – became the greatest slalom skier of all time (male or female). She has a good claim to being the best skier ever. And she’s only 26.
Colorado’s Mikaela Shiffrin won the overall World Cup title Friday for the second year in a row and she did it with five races left in the season. The Olympic champion finished third in the giant slalom race Friday which was enough to secure the top spot overall way to go.CBS Denver
No one else has ever really been able to meaningfully – or consistently – compete with her.
That is until now. Enter Petra Vlhova. Her path to the Beijing Winter Olympics is a little different to Mikaela Shiffrin. Both women are the same age, but they’ve never really been competitors.
Petra Vlhova has 22 World Cup wins with 6 medals at the World Championships. She hasn’t won any Olympic medals yet. But, in the last two seasons of the Alpine Ski World Cup, the top international circuit of Alpine skiing competitions, Petra has won eight races. Mikaela trailed her, winning five.
And, after relentlessly training for weeks in Lapland and skipping out on other tournaments, in November she beat Mikaela Shiffrin in the first world cup slalom of the season.
So, what to expect at the Winter Olympics?
The Beijing Winter Olympics have been dogged by problems: diplomatic boycotts, a new highly transmissible variant of covid, and the small issue of there being no snow.
But that won’t stop viewers from tuning in. The Olympics are often described as reality tv for people who love sports. Over the years there have been many, many great rivalries.
Think skiers Bode Miller and Hermann “The Hermanator” Maier. And who could forget figure skaters, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan?
On January 6th 1994, the sports world watched in horror as Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session.CBSN
It’s worth pointing out that the rivalry between Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova isn’t the trash talking – or sabotaging – kind. Off the mountains they are cordial.
At the end of their races, they hug and chat, and congratulate each other. It seems that they genuinely appreciate the competition – that it makes them better athletes.
So, who’s going to win? You might think that with their difference in experience Mikaela Shiffrin has Gold in the bag. She doesn’t think so. She recently admitted in an interview: “there’s not a whole lot I can do that’s better than what she’s doing.”
For years, Alpine skiing has been a one woman show. Petra Vlhova seems determined to change that.
Today’s story was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Imy Harper.
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