Pyeongchang, South Korea • Just about anywhere Mikaela Shiffrin goes these days, you can expect to see a camera crew, reporters, a gaggle of fans. Few athletes at these Olympics have a higher profile or greater expectations. At a press conference here on Saturday, the 22-year-old Colorado skier was asked if she could be “the Michael Phelps of the Winter Olympics,” a gold-medal machine built for the snow.
Away from the media scrums, behind the scenes, you can usually find someone else wherever Shiffrin goes. Lyndsay Young is a University of Utah graduate and the U.S. ski team therapist and trainer tasked with making sure the machine’s engine purrs.
Shiffrin could compete in as many as five different events over the coming weeks in Pyeongchang, starting with the giant slalom on Monday in Korea.
“I want to medal,” she said. “I want to medal in multiple disciplines.”
It is an exhausting and ambitious pursuit. But it is one for which Young, who has helped Shiffrin win 10 different World Cup events this season, believes the skier is ready.
“She’s earned it,” Young said. “If she does get that gold, she earned it for sure. She works harder than anybody else.”
Young moved from Wisconsin to Salt Lake City to study to become an athletic trainer and quickly knew she wanted to get involved with the U.S. ski team. The feeling, it seems, wasn’t entirely mutual. As an undergraduate at the U., she repeatedly inquired about opportunities for work but never could get a yes until her final semester of grad school.
“I just kept bugging them,” she said.
She started out working with the team’s mogul skiers in 2014. This was right after the Sochi Olympics. By then, Shiffrin had already won her gold medal in slalom and stuffed it into a sock for safe keeping (“I’m not going to tell you the exact location, in case you want to go into my house and steal it,” she told reporters this week.”) And, already, Shiffrin was thinking about ways to compete in the downhill speed events, too.
Young would be instrumental in helping her do it.
The two women were paired together by circumstance when Shiffrin’s then-trainer was unable to go on a six-week trip in 2015. Young filled in and immediately clicked with Shiffrin.
“Our values are very much aligned,” Young said. “She’s just such a hard worker and she’s so compliant and it’s amazing to get to work with an athlete like that.”
When Shiffrin crashed during a training run in Sweden in 2015, Young was the first person on the scene, and she helped make sure Shiffrin’s path to the Pyeongchang Olympics wasn’t delayed too long by a medial collateral ligament tear.
Now Young has been focused on power and proprioception, speed and agility, as Shiffrin eyes the podium in vastly different disciplines.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” Young said.
Shiffrin could compete in the slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill, and alpine combined. But as of Saturday, she had not committed to a number of events.
“I don’t have a solid answer for you yet,” she said. “I would like to compete in every one. I don’t know if I’m actually going to have the energy to do that.”
Shiffrin’s grueling summer workouts with Young, however, should have her as prepared as possible. “They’re absolutely crazy,” Young said. Splitting time between Colorado and Utah, Shiffrin spends two hours each day lifting weights, rides her bike each afternoon, and does mobility training and therapy for about 90 minutes. All told, a day of training can last about 10 hours.
“She kicks her own butt every day,” Young said.
Young has also injected a bit of whimsy into the regimen. The Ute grad learned to tap dance at her mother’s studio in Wisconsin. One day, while she was working on coordination drills with some skiers, Young gave them a lesson in “River Dance” instead. Now dance has become a regular part of Shiffrin’s routine. She travels with tap shoes.
“It’s amazing how much it’s helped her,” Young said. “Skiing, slalom racing, it’s finesse and quick flight and weight-shifting and having your arms thrown around. That’s what tap dancing is.”
As Shiffrin prepares to take the hill this week in Pyeongchang, however, Young is hoping the skier’s next dance steps are on the podium. A medal, Shiffrin said, “is a symbol of the work that I put in my skiing and the work my team puts in”. There is no doubt it would mean something special for Young, too.