The City I Love: Shiffrin now officially one of our own
PITTSFIELD - She didn't, and we all did. Fall, I mean.
There's no reason not to love the Mikaela Shiffrin story. And now that we've all learned of her Berkshire County ties, it takes on more of that family feeling. The U.S. Women's Ski Team member and the Sochi gold medalist in slalom visits her grandmother, Polly Condron, of Lanesborough, a few times each year, and is usually able to connect with her uncle, P.J. Condron, also of Lanesborough, and her aunts - Caroline Ryan, of Rochester, N.Y., and Anne-Marie Herrick, of Albany, N.Y.
Mikaela's mother, Eileen Shiffrin, grew up with her three siblings in Lanesborough, and the three sisters and brother were all Mount Greylock Regional High School graduates. They all ski, and that's not a shocker.
Joseph Condron, the patriarch of the family, passed a few years ago. But Polly (Nana) remains at the family home at age 92, and if you saw the local Channel 13 news video of the Shiffrin living room and the subsequent reaction of family members to the gold-medal run down the mountain, you can easily see that Polly is still in pretty good shape. I think she jumped as high and was as loud as the other dozen or so folks who gathered that early Friday morning to watch the live feed of the race.
Lanesborough, as it turned out, became the local center of our own Olympic universe. Not only did the Condron family give us Mikaela, we also had luge racer Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., who we reported having spent the first four years of his life growing up in Lanesborough.
When events such as the Olympics come around, your area media outlets search crazily for local connections. Those "connections" can be a real stretch at times, but the Shiffrin and Mazdzer stories were actually pretty good tales that resonated warmly within local circles. I didn't have to blow too hard on the embers to keep those stories warm and relevant.
I'm that guy who can't build things. When the few projects I've tried to put together have been completed, there are extra screws, nuts, bolts and various components of the project still laying on the instruction manual. That's scary, but at least I know my limitations.
It can be like that when you build a story, or in this case, a series of stories. Like a good dinner, there are always leftovers. These leftover thoughts come to mind.
Jeff Shiffrin, Mikaela's father and former downhill ski racer at Dartmouth, stressed to his daughter for years that the process toward the goal was perhaps even more important than the goal itself. It's the journey, he preached. And while that's all well and good, the reaction Jeff displayed on television during NBC's Friday night prime time showing of Shiffrin's goldmedal effort was priceless. He was about two feet off the Sochi snow when Mikaela's run was over.
So much for the process and journey. Mikaela is only 18 and I'm sure Dad was covering all his bets and trying to keep his talented daughter grounded. Which he and Eileen did so very well. But how wonderful to see a father's emotions come to the surface as a moment long thought about came suddenly to fruition.
Jeff stayed behind at the family home in Colorado, while Eileen toured this year with Mikaela on the World Cup circuit. Eileen reviewed many high school courses in order to home school Mikaela as they traveled throughout Europe. The Shiffrin family earned gold and sacrificed as a team.
Did you see Mikaela in the studio with Olympics host Bob Costas just hours after she had clinched the gold? The kid knocked the ball right out of the park. She was mature but still a bit precocious. She was articulate but still spoke like a teen might. She was engaging and appreciative and professionally took the segment to the commercial break when Costas let her read the cue card. She conveyed both an admirable and formidable personality. She was equally adept during her surprise appearance on Monday night with Jimmy Fallon.
As the new face of U.S. women's skiing, I have read that Mikaela was in line for about $3 million in endorsements. That was before the Olympics. I don't know if that number is accurate, but the gold medal will certainly accentuate and accelerate her plans. Farewell, Lindsey Vonn. Hello, Mikaela Shiffrin.
The Austrian skier who won the silver medal in slalom had been one of Mikaela's heroes growing up. Marlies Schiuld was 32 and in her final Olympics. So, it's safe to assume that somewhere today on a ski slope is a 6-year-old girl who watched Shiffrin on television and who is now preparing to join her on the medal podium in 2026.
Mikaela has three more Olympics within her grasp if all goes well. It will be fun to watch her career unfold. And while we didn't know too much about her a month ago, it's OK to adopt her and embrace the idea that she is now one of our own.
I think that's good. To be honest, I don't think she would mind a new adopted home. At 18, she already floats high with the greats. You go, girl.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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