Mikaela Shiffrin on Studying Taylor Swift’s Success Playbook: ‘She’s Been Guiding Me’

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Mikaela Shiffrin is in a league of her own. The 28-year-old American downhill skiing phenomenon smashed the all-time record for World Cup race victories (87) last year and by most accounts has quite a few years to go in her unprecedented slope dominance.


But according to a New York Times profile, instead of focusing on the career arc of such fellow double-Olympic champs as alpine legend Ingemar Stenmark (whose World Cup record she broke), when Shiffrin looks for examples for maintaining — and expanding — her skiing superiority the idol she wants to emulate is a pop one.

“I’ve spent 15 years studying Taylor Swift and she has been guiding me a little bit every step of the way,” Shiffrin, 28, told the paper about the music star whose career path has featured similar massive highs and soul-sucking lows. “It’s why most Swifties become Swifties. It feels like her music is speaking directly to you. Her experiences resonate; I’ve always tried to learn from them.”

A Swiftie since age 13, Shiffrin made her World Cup circuit debut at 16 — the same age Swift, now 34, was when she began recording her debut album — and has reached the kind of rock star status in ski-crazy Europe as Swift has across the planet. Shiffrin rented a suite to catch Swift’s Eras Tour in Denver over the summer, which she described as “three hours of jumping up and down while singing every song at the top of my lungs” as she searched for a lesson that might shape her own next “era.”

Like Swift, Shiffrin was thrust into the international spotlight early, after winning three World Cup races and a world championship gold medal as a high school senior. Listening to Swift’s 2008 Fearless album, Shiffrin said she plumbed the collection for cheat codes about living as a public figure.

“Granted, Taylor is a big fish in a big pond and I’m more of a big fish in a small pond,” Shiffrin told the paper. “But you can see how she’s handled the attention, because she was a teenager too. She was able to hold up and work on her music. And while she’s very comfortable sharing a lot of her life, she builds a layer of protection when she needs it. She can disappear. That does seem to give her energy.”

Shiffrin said she took those lessons in and assimilated them, though her journey was made more difficult because of her nature as an “extreme” introvert. After taking a gold and silver at the 2018 Olympics, followed by 17 race wins, a poor showing the next year flung Shiffrin into a funk as she worried about whether she could ever reach those heights again.

And, once more, a Swift album helped her find her balance. This time it was 2017’s Reputation, the singer’s reaction to public and media scrutiny after her previous album, 1989, thrust the singer into global stardom. “That album was built of basically having her reputation go incredibly downhill, or at least that’s how she perceived it with all the feuds that were going on at the time,” Shiffrin said of Swift’s public feud with Kanye West and then-wife Kim Kardashian. “But she came back in a big, big way. I related to the album because it made me feel like life is full of ebbs and flows. And that everything is probably going to be OK.”

Shiffrin’s mother, former ski racer Eileen, described how her daughter’s career thrives on “creativity,” noting that every new Swift song, concert and video provides inspiration and motivation for the next challenge. “She [Swfit] keeps Miki ticking like she does the whole world. And she stands her ground, as she should, and that’s a great role model,” said Eileen Shiffrin, who also praised Swift’s “street smarts” and business savvy.

Following the shocking accidental death of her father in an accident in Feb. 2020, Shiffrin turned to Swift’s pandemic album Folklore for help navigating grief. She cued in on the song “Epiphany,” which Swift said explores the emotional distress faced by health care workers and soldiers at war. “She literally addressed the most unforeseeable and horrific experience I ever have gone through,” Shiffrin said of the album that came out five months after her father’s passing; Swift’s parents have each had cancer battles. “It speaks directly to the experiences I had in the hospital with my dad.”

Though Swift has served as a kind of unofficial north star during Shiffrin’s record-smashing run, the telegenic ski superstar said she’s terrified of meeting her idol in person. “I’d probably trip over myself and be so tongue-tied,” Shiffrin laughed. “And then it’d be memorable to her because it’s the first time she’s experienced, like, a goofball.”

Even as new metrics need to be created to measure Swift’s success, Shiffrin said she admires how the singer “just keeps going.” Given their mutual championship mindset, Shiffrin wonders if we’ve even touched “1 percent of what she [Swift] can accomplish” with her music. “I think about my skiing in a similar way. I’m closer now to reaching my potential, but it’s not about a record or another title,” she said. “I’ve noticed Taylor just keeps going. In a way, you never finish doing that work.”

Shiffrin will look to add to her medal haul in March at the World Cup Finals.

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