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Is Mikaela Shiffrin the GOAT? Not yet

This season Mikaela Shiffrin recorded her 88th Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) alpine ski race wins, two ahead of Ingemar Stenmark. That made her the greatest alpine ski racer of all time. Not necessarily, there is a lot more than winning races alone. You have to factor in winning FIS titles, winning Olympics and World Championships medals, and winning percentages (even looking at the percentage of 2nd and 3d places). Once you look at a more complete picture, you may have to accept that Mikaela Shiffrin is actually far from being the GOAT yet. This does not preclude that she could become the GOAT once her career is complete.

A caveat for dominance over a short period no one will ever match Toni Sailer and Jean Claude Killy.

Jean-Claude Killy (France)

He participated in just two Olympics in 1964 and 1968. In 1964, he was sick and did not perform well. In 1968, he won gold medals in all three disciplines being raced at the time (slalom, giant slalom, and downhill). During the 1966–1967 season, he skied in 16 FIS races, and won 12 of them! He dominated all three disciplines.

Toni Sailer (Austria)

He was even more dominant than Killy. He participated in one single Olympic in 1956. He also won all three disciplines. But, while Killy won some of them by razor-thin margins, Sailer won by huge margins. He won the downhill by 3.5 seconds, the slalom by 4.2 seconds, and the giant slalom by 6.2 seconds. He won also four gold medals in the mentioned disciplines at the World Championships in 1956 (the fourth discipline was “Combined”). At the 1958 World Championships, he won gold medals in downhill, giant slalom, and combined. He also won a silver medal in slalom.

A different era

Killy and Sailer versatile dominance has truly no recent equivalent. They both lived in a different era. Skiing was the most amateur sport. You could not make a living out of alpine ski racing. So, athletes would attempt to quickly reach the top to win medals and fame. Soon, they would leave the sport to make a living by leveraging their fame if they could.

Thus, you won’t see Killy or Sailer within number of wins records. But, their short meteoric careers still leave an impressive footprint if you look at Olympic medals.


Within the table above Killy and Sailer are tied for fourth place winning each three gold medals in one single Olympic. And, they could not have won anymore because the Super-G and Combined were not Olympic events at the time. All others among the top 10 participated in numerous Olympics with often more alpine ski racing events. Therefore, their respective success rate was far lower than Killy’s and Sailer’s.

By comparison, Mikaela Shiffrin participated in three different Olympics. And, out of 11 starts, she won just two gold medals and a silver. Thus, she won gold only 18% of the time vs. 50% for Killy (remember he was sick in 1964 and did not perform well) and 100% for Sailer.

For the remainder of my GOAT exploration, I will keep Killy and Sailer out of the picture. Both their careers were so short because of the “amateur” status of that era. Comparisons with later champions across such different eras would be arbitrary. Before leaving them, I just wanted to remember them as a class apart.

The GOAT contenders

After studying the relevant records, the following five names make for a pretty formidable group to contend for being the GOAT.

1. Mikaela Shiffrin (female, US, 2011 +)

2. Ingemar Stenmark (male, Sweden, 1974–1989)

3. Marcel Hirscher (male, Austria, 2008–2019)

4. Lindsey Vonn (female, US, 2001–2019)

5. Annemarie Moser-Proll (female, Austria, 1969–1980)

The first thing to observe is the very long career of all mentioned champions. The era of professionalism finally hit alpine ski racing. So, one could actually make a career of it over a decade or two.

When we will compare the careers of the five contenders, we will notice that there are three different patterns:

  1. The prodigies, Stenmark and Proll became dominant figures very early on in their teens as soon as they hit the FIS circuit;
  2. The late bloomers, Hirscher and Vonn only got going in their early 20s. But, they kept on trucking and remained dominant for a very long time;
  3. Shiffrin is the one hybrid. She was a prodigy, but not as dominant as Stenmark and Proll. However, she is keeping on trucking. Her most recent season (this year) at 27, was one of the most successful of her already long career. By that time (27), the mentioned prodigies were already much past their peak… not Shiffrin.

Of course, Shiffrin is the only active alpine ski racer within this elite group. Thus, she has the chance of extending her records and improving her status. But, for the time being, we will look at the actual records so far and not consider Shiffrin’s remaining career potential. We will do that within the conclusion of this essay.

FIS titles track record

Looking at FIS titles is one of the most representative ways to benchmark these five champions. In the table below, you can see that Shiffrin has not yet closed the deal of being the GOAT. She has won 5 FIS Overall titles, and 15 FIS titles including all disciplines. Meanwhile, Hirscher has won 8 FIS Overall titles, and 20 FIS titles including all disciplines. Proll won 6 and 16 respectively. Vonn won 4 and 20, respectively. Stenmark won 3 and 19, respectively. If you stopped the clock right now, you would have to award the GOAT to Hirscher.


Looking at the table above, you can clearly differentiate between the prodigies, Stenmark and Proll, vs. the late bloomers, Hirscher and Vonn. The prodigies won the majority of their titles by the time they were 21 (yellow highlights). Meanwhile, by the same age, the late bloomers, Hirscher and Vonn, had not won one single FIS title yet. Yet, in a classic turtle and the hare fable, the late bloomers end up winning a lot more FIS titles because of their dominance longevity (see their number of titles after 21 years old highlighted in green).

Let’s visualize the above data to capture the whole career trajectory of the five champions. Let’s first focus on FIS Overall titles. “Overall” here means the skier who wins the FIS Overall title as crowned the best overall ski racer for a given season by having won more FIS points than anyone else. This is probably the best single measure of versatile dominant virtuosity within this sport.


The 1st graph shows how incredibly dominant Proll was in the early years. She won five consecutive FIS Overall titles from 17 to 21. Meanwhile, as shown the late bloomers are not yet on the scoreboard.

The second graph shows the revenge of the late bloomers, in particular Hirscher. He won eight consecutive FIS Overall titles from 22 to 29 years old. That is a truly insane record. What Proll has achieved as a prodigy and Hirscher as a late bloomer far surpass what Shiffrin has done so far. And, she will never come close to matching either record. It is not impossible that she could win another three FIS Overall titles to match Hirscher’s eight. But, she will never win eight consecutive titles.

The third graph shows the same data as the second one, but its facet format renders the visual data far clearer. Within this graph, you can clearly see Hirscher’s rocket take off between 22 and 29 years old, unmatched by the other four contenders.

Next, let’s go through the same exercise but include all FIS titles (slalom, GS, downhill, etc.), not just Overall titles.


Graph 4 again discloses the incredible dominance of Proll with 13 titles by 21 years old. Stenmark is close behind with 11. They are both far ahead of Shiffrin who has only 5 by the same age. Meanwhile, the late bloomers have Zero.

Graph 5 shows the ascent of the late bloomers with both Hirscher and Vonn leading with 20. On this chart, you can see that Shiffrin is in the last position. However, her most recent season was sensational (3 titles). And, on an age-adjusted basis, she is right in there between Hirscher and Vonn. To catch both, she needs another 5 titles. That is a huge challenge. But, another two or three decent seasons and she may well match them. This is possible. It is challenging to quantify how probable it is.

Graph 6 displays the same visual data as Graph 5. I like facet graphs because once you have more than 3 or 4 time series on the same graph, the human brain is not that well equipped to accurately grasp all the trends displayed within the visual data.

Shiffrin vs. Proll, is an interesting match-up

Let’s take a closer look at a Shiffrin vs. Proll comparison.


You can see Proll’s unparalleled dominance from 17 to 21 years old. Then, her dominant era was done. The next year, she skipped the entire season to take care of her father who was passing away from lung cancer. She came back the next season at 23 years old. She remained a formidable skier. But, her era of total domination was over.

There is another factor to take into consideration in this Shiffrin — Proll match-up. When Proll was racing, the Super G had not yet been introduced. The Super G is very much the discipline that is equidistant between the giant slalom (GS) and downhill. Given that Proll dominated both those disciplines, it is most likely she would have dominated in Super G too. Right there, if you want to put Shiffrin and Proll on a comparable basis, you could easily add another 3 titles (in Super G) to Proll’s record.

Despite all the mentioned handicaps (father lung cancer, no Super G), Proll is still leading in Overall and total FIS titles vs. Shiffrin. Shiffrin is very likely to pass her. However, we will be left to speculate if Proll’s father did not suffer from lung cancer at the time and if she could have had the opportunity to race Super G, how many more titles Proll would have. On another side note, Proll won 11 FIS downhill races in a row, another amazing record. I don’t think Shiffrin came anywhere close to ever winning 11 slalom races in a row.

Note that Ingemar Stenmark, just like Proll, did not have the opportunity to run Super G. However, while Proll was a sure bet to be dominant in Super G (she was dominant in the two events surrounding Super G: GS and downhill), I don’t think Stenmark would have been. That’s because he was truly a slalom specialist uncomfortable with the high speed and risks of downhill. And, Super G is the closest thing to downhill. Super G is really downhill with a few more tough high-speed turns. I don’t see Stenmark being a dominant racer in that discipline.

The champions of consecutiveness: Hirscher and Stenmark


Look at Hirscher, he won 8 consecutive FIS Overall titles from 22 to 29 years old. And, he accomplished probably the best retirement of any sports star. Talk about retiring at the top. No one really does it, well except Hirscher. His 8 consecutive FIS Overall titles wins represent an unassailable historical record.

Stenmark is quite the consecutive winner too. He won 7 consecutive slalom and GS titles. In 10 consecutive years, he was either 1st or second in both those disciplines. And, in 13 consecutive years, he was in the top 10 in those same disciplines.

As a reminder, Hirscher is the classic late bloomer. Meanwhile, Stenmark is very much the prodigy. While, Stenmark had a very long career, much longer than Hirscher; Stenmark achieved dominance early on and slowly faded with age. Hirscher was like a vintage wine. He just got as good or better with age.

Ranking the GOAT contenders based on FIS title records

Now, with a fairly complete perspective on FIS standings, here is how I would currently rank the top 5 GOAT contenders.

6-pic.pngWhen ranking the contenders, I put more weight on FIS Overall titles than FIS titles earned in all disciplines. But, I do that up to a point. Vonn earning 5 more titles than Shiffrin, in my mind more than made up for Shiffrin earning one single extra FIS Overall title.

As shown, Shiffrin is 4th out of 5. As still an active ski racer in top form, she is in a position to climb up that ladder. She can very likely pass Vonn and Proll. Whether she catches up to Hirscher is a very different story. At this stage, I consider it unlikely.

FIS individual races records

Here is the main summary data.


Every champion has one favorite discipline where he is truly dominant. And, that affects his entire approach to ski racing. This preferred dominant specialty is at the opposite extreme of the sport discipline range for our five contenders. We have three technician slalomers (Shiffrin, Stenmark, and Hirscher). And, at the opposite extreme, we have two kamikazes downhillers (Vonn and Proll). The trick for these champions is to attempt to transfer their specialized skill set as much as possible into the middle territory (GS and Super G). GS is pretty accessible for the slalomers (two of them became nearly as good in GS as in slalom: Stenmark and Hirscher). The Super G is most accessible for the downhillers. Vonn did well in that discipline. Proll would have excelled at it if she had had the opportunity. But, she was no slouch in GS.

All the performance percentages above are insanely good. Shiffrin won above half of all the slalom races she entered. She made it to the podium (first three spots) in nearly three-quarters of such slalom races. Proll very much matched Shiffrin’s outstanding records with her own dominant specialty: downhill races. Both Stenmark and Hirscher have outstanding records when you look at both their 1st specialty (slalom) and their second one (GS). Proll is also pretty darn good when looking at her success rate in downhill and GS. She would have certainly fared even better on her second specialty if she had the opportunity to race Super G (an even more natural fit for her as a downhiller than GS).

Looking at the above data makes it more challenging to rank these five contenders vs. when we just looked at titles. Ok, Shiffrin has the most FIS race wins, and an outstanding % success rate in her first specialty (slalom). Only Proll gives her a run for % success rate in first specialty (downhill). However, when you look at the second specialty Shiffrin falls into last place. At that superlative level, she may not be quite as well-rounded or diversified a skier as the other four. Looking at different data sets, we could derive the opposite conclusion that Shiffrin is actually the most well-rounded, as she is the only one who won FIS titles in 3 different disciplines (slalom, GS, Super G). The assessment of who is the most well-rounded skier is complicated.

Looking at the above data makes it more challenging to rank these five contenders vs. when we just looked at titles. Ok, Shiffrin has the most FIS race wins, and an outstanding % success rate in her first specialty (slalom). Only Proll gives her a run for % success rate in first specialty (downhill). However, when you look at the second specialty Shiffrin falls into last place. At that superlative level, she may not be quite as well-rounded or diversified a skier as the other four. Looking at different data sets, we could derive the opposite conclusion that Shiffrin is actually the most well-rounded, as she is the only one who won FIS titles in 3 different disciplines (slalom, GS, Super G). The assessment of who is the most well-rounded skier is complicated.

In my mind, this specific data set on individual FIS race records is very informative. But, it does not seem definitive when considering GOAT rankings.

Looking at all records including World Championships and Olympics

The table below summarizes the five contenders’ respective performance at the Olympics, the World Championships, and the FIS circuit (that we have already reviewed in detail).


Surprisingly, in terms of success rate, all five contenders underperformed at the Olympics. That is especially true for Shiffrin and Vonn. Their success rate at the Olympics is so much lower than on the FIS circuit. All five are bested by a wide margin by Jean Claude Killy and Toni Sailer who collected more gold medals in one single Olympics than any of the contenders who all participated in many more Olympics with most often more events (Super G, Combi).

By contrast, when focusing on World Championships, the five contenders’ respective performance is very good. It is most often in line or even superior to their performance on the FIS circuit.

So, who is and who will be the GOAT?

For the current GOAT standing, I still think this table gives us the cleanest ranking.


The data above suggests that Marcel Hirscher is the GOAT for the time being. It shows that Shiffrin is in 4th place behind Hirscher, Proll, and Vonn. Remember I weigh FIS Overall titles much more.

Over the next couple of seasons, Shiffrin has a good chance of passing Vonn and Proll to reach 2nd place behind Hirscher.

I consider it unlikely that she will match Hirscher’s FIS title records. So, based on FIS title records she is likely to remain second best.

However, when we will compare Hirscher and Shiffrin across all domains it is going to get complicated. Remember this data set below. It shows that Shiffrin has already won more World Championships titles than Hirscher (7 vs. 5) and a ton more FIS races (88 vs. 67).


By the time Shiffrin has completed her career, let’s say that:

a) Shiffrin ends up with 6 FIS Overall titles vs. 8 for Hirscher;

b) Shiffrin ends up with 18 FIS titles in all disciplines vs. 20 for Hirscher;

c) Shiffrin ends up with 9 World Championship wins vs. 5 for Hirscher;

d) Shiffrin ends up with 101 FIS race wins vs. 67 for Hirscher.

In the end, Shiffrin superiority in c) and d) could be so great as to fully compensate for the small deficits in FIS titles.

So, who is the GOAT now? Marcel Hirscher

Who will be the GOAT when Shiffrin is done? No clear answer.

It is likely that Shiffrin will end up with a record that will make it difficult to decide between Hirscher and Shiffrin.

Quite often any GOAT considerations in all human domains (arts, science, sports, etc.) end up being inconclusive. The same is likely for alpine ski racing.


Mikaela Shiffrin, ski racing, Olympics, slalom