Lest anyone wonder why elite athletes like Team USA gymnast Simone Biles feel insurmountable pressure to perform, they need look no further than what happened to American Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin in Beijing this week.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist is having a bad Winter Games, disqualifying in her signature events where she was favored to win or at least medal. But 24 hours after what was clearly a disappointment for her, much of the criticism has turned to the media—namely NBC—for their brutal coverage of her performance.
Elite athletes and sports fans alike took to social media Tuesday to criticize NBC for appearing to bully her, keeping their cameras on her sitting on the sidelines after her fall, and their seeming inability to remember that she is human.
On Monday, she crashed 11 seconds into the giant slalom, where she was defending her Gold medal. On Wednesday, she skied out of the fifth gate in the slalom just five seconds into the race.
Shiffrin, 26, has admitted to struggles after the untimely 2020 death of her father—and biggest fan. But it was clear from her after-run interview that she also felt unthinkable pressure. “I’ve never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it,” she said after her Wednesday run.
“My entire career has taught me to trust in my skiing if it’s good skiing and that’s all that I have to rely on. ... Of course the pressure is high, but that didn’t feel like the biggest issue today,” she said. “So it’s not the end of the world, and it’s so stupid to care this much, but I feel that I have to question a lot now.”
Praise and support for her poured in on Wednesday, with Simone Biles, who had taken herself out of the Tokyo Summer Games over her own mental health concerns, tagging her in a tweet featuring a row of hearts.
Biles also retweeted several comments on sportsmanship and how Shiffrin’s performance was being criticized.
Others directly blamed NBC, calling out the network for their harsh coverage and reminding them of the conversations about mental health after Biles’ Summer Games seemed all but forgotten.
Shiffrin, clearly still struggling with the loss of her father, mentioned him when speaking to reporters on Monday after her first disqualifier. “Right now, I would really like to call him, so that doesn’t make it easier,” Shiffrin said. “And he would probably tell me to just get over it. But he’s not here to say that. So on top of everything else, I’m pretty angry at him, too.”
During the Summer Games, Shiffrin showed support for Biles and swimmer Caeleb Dressel, who called competing at such a high level “terrifying.” Shiffrin said at the time, “He won all of the gold medals that were in Tokyo and, like, STILL felt that way.”
The Colorado native, who won the women’s slalom in Sochi in 2014 and the giant slalom at the 2018 Pyeonchgang Games, was philosophical about what’s next. She is scheduled to compete on Friday, but hinted she might listen to her body instead.