"I have had a lot of disappointing moments at these Games. Today is not one of them.
"Today is my favourite memory.
"This was the best possible way that I could imagine ending the Games, skiing with such strong teammates."
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20/03/2022 AT 12:22
Why do we participate in sport?
It’s a fairly philosophical question to begin with but it’s one worth keeping in mind if you are someone who reads this.
Sport is an extraordinary phenomenon. It has the ability to thrill and unite people from all over the world. The euphoria and ecstasy that sport can provide is like no other.
But what goes up must always come down. The lows of sport can be brutal, more so when you consider for so many spectators it is a form of escapism from the increasingly difficult realities we face day to day.
For the athletes and those who support them it is slightly different. For them this is their livelihood as well as their passion. We may all start from the same place but our destinations are different to theirs.
Which is why the above set of quotes resonated so much on the final day of the 2022 Winter Olympics. They are from American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who has become one of the faces of the games.
That in of itself is no surprise. Shiffrin is the best skier in the world, possibly of all-time. She was one of the poster athletes for the games the moment a curtain was brought down on Pyeongchang four years ago.

‘I don’t have a really good explanation!’ – Shiffrin after third DNF

But Shiffrin didn’t win a single medal.
In fact, given expectations, there is probably an argument to be had that based on pure results no athlete had a worse Olympics than Shiffrin did.
Yet when you look back at what has been a gruelling few weeks there is a lot to be learned, both for Shiffrin and ourselves as a whole.
After her catastrophic DNFs in both the slalom and giant slalom, her marquee events, Shiffrin looked as if she wanted to be anywhere else other than Beijing.
But fast forward to results in the super-G, downhill and mixed team parallel and Shiffrin looks, if not back to her usual self, a damn sight closer. There were no medals, Sunday’s fourth place was her best finish, but from the outside looking in it seemed as though Shiffrin had fallen back in love with skiing again.
And boy did she have to.
Shiffrin posted on social media a selection of the abusive messages she had received on her channels after her failures. In a follow-up message Shiffrin pondered: “Why do I keep coming back? Gosh knows it hurts more than it feels good lately.”
In an interview with American broadcaster NBC a couple of days later Shiffrin admitted that, after the failure in the technical events, she wanted to “melt off the face of the earth.”
For anyone who follows sport closely the feeling of deja vu was impossible to ignore. The parallels with legendary gymnast Simone Biles were uncanny.
Biles withdrew from five of her six finals at Tokyo 2020 after suffering from “the twisties”, a gymnastic phenomenon that affects spatial awareness. Biles was brutally honest in talking about her mental health and the pressure she felt, which was exacerbated by the abuse she received from former team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now in prison serving a life sentence.
Biles sent her support to Shiffrin, first on social media and later in TV appearances.
“I know this all too well,” Biles wrote in a comment on an Instagram post by Shiffrin. “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this! People suck... damned if you do damned if you don’t. But just remember how AMAZING you are, we’re all cheering for you, proud of you, love and support you!”
The way in which we, as a society, have systemically failed Biles, Shiffrin and countless other athletes is shameful. Social media has magnified a disgusting trait within humanity that has been going on for years.
Why do we feel as if these athletes owe us something? Is it purely down to the fact that they earn so much more money than the average person? Is it because we have been unable to process the rage that comes with not being in their shoes? Is it deep-rooted racism or misogyny? Or is it something worse? Is it that we don’t even see these people as humans?
Whatever it is we need to take action. It can be as big as tech giants finally taking responsibility for the vitriol they perpetuate on their platforms, or as small as us as individuals not idolising these people and obsessing over every single detail of their life.

'Remember, you are an inspiration' - Swiatek with touching words for friend Shiffrin

Fandom is a wonderful thing. You can find no end of athletes who have spoken about what it means to have the backing of their global fanbase. But when it is taken too far, as has been a growing trend in the past ten to fifteen years, we have incidents like this, stuff that is totally avoidable.
This is not about toughening up or just getting on with it. This is about recognising as a society that we cannot continue treating athletes the way we have been for so long. This is about taking responsibility as a collective to remember that sport is not life and death.
Sport is about the joy of play. It’s about the way it makes us feel when we score a goal, catch a touchdown, land a routine, or execute a perfect ski. It’s about the collective joy we feel, it’s about digging deep, learning and bouncing back when things don’t go our way.
Shiffrin said that in her social post. "I come back because those first nine turns today were spectacular, really heaven. That's where I'm meant to be."
When you are in sync with the sport you're playing there are few feelings in the world like it. It doesn't matter if you are a total amateur down the park on a weekend or an Olympian. That feeling is special for everyone.
It is never about the trophies or medals you win. It is about the way in which you carry yourself. Like Biles before her Shiffrin has acted in such a way, under such pressure, that her on-snow failures are rendered meaningless. That is a real skill. And it is one that most of us would do well to learn.
Alpine Skiing
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