Mikaela Shiffrin is a returning gold medalist at the Winter Olympics — and was recently proclaimed “the best slalom skier in the world”by at least one magazine — but she remains, in her own words, basically the same kind of person, regardless of her athletic success.
“I’m still going into these Games feeling star-struck by all of my competitors, and I’m the same type of person to just keep my head down and just go do my race, do my thing and then see what happens,” she told PEOPLE prior to arriving in Pyeongchang, where U.S. viewers will get their first glimpse of her at the 2018 Olympics Wednesday evening in the alpine skiing women’s giant slalom event — after weather-related delays.
A phenom on the snow, the 22-year-old Shiffrin can be wry, silly and self-deprecating in conversation, quick to reassure reporters she very much is not that famous — despite her history-making wins.
“I think I have a good combination of differences from the last Olympics and also the same sort of personality, I hope,” says the Vail, Colorado, native, who clinched her spot on Team USA in December. “Hopefully I haven’t turned into a jerk or something.”
“I think that the biggest difference for me coming back to these Games as a medalist is just sort of that I know what that entails — how much goes along with that and how much my life did change, how much everything picked up after Sochi,” Shiffrin says. “So I can expect the same thing to happen if I am able to win more medals.”
In 2014, she became the youngest slalom gold medalist ever, at 18. And if anything, the years since have only accelerated her victories.
In a recent piece, one Boston Globe sport writer detailed how Shiffrin’s pace of race wins “far exceeds” fellow American alpine skier Lindsey Vonn at a similar stage in her career (and Vonn is the most decorated female ski racer of all time).
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For its December issue, Outside magazine joined The New Yorker in labeling Shiffrin one of the sport’s greatest athletes.
On Twitter, she responded graciously (alongside a string of playful emojis) but noted, “I totally realize that there are quite a few names on the list before mine for ‘best of all time’!”
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“I’m well-known in my sport and people are starting to take notice outside of my sport as well, but the good thing of where I’m at right now is that I’m kind of — like I don’t really want it to change,” Shiffrin told PEOPLE in September. “I do in that, if I want to go to the Olympics this year, I want to perform well and if I do then it will change, so I want to do that. But I don’t want things to change in that I can go to the grocery store and shop and do my things.”
“That’s what I like about my life right now, that people don’t stop me too much,” she says. “But I think maybe they will start as the Olympics get closer because of doing interviews and my face is going places and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh we don’t want to see anymore of her.’ ”
Shiffrin is now in her third decade skiing (she started at age 2, in her family’s driveway). But as with the idea of fame, the idea she may be someone else’s role model has been an adjustment.
“I still have so many idols in the sport, in skiing racing, that it’s sort of like — okay, if the young kids are looking to me and I’m looking up to my idols, then it’s just a whole spider-web of people looking up to each other going, ‘Let’s just all hold hands around a campfire,’ ” she says. “And I don’t know, I’m just a person, I’m just a girl. There’s no reason to think I’m something special. But if people enjoy watching me ski race, then that is a huge compliment.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.