The Mikaela Shiffrin Media Coverage Was Cruel


On Wednesday morning Team USA alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin missed a gate seconds into the women’s slalom race, disqualifying her from her second 2022 Winter Olympics event in a row. Shiffrin, who came to Beijing under the pressure of being a two-time Olympic gold medalist and favorite in her events, also crashed out early in her first event (the giant slalom) on Monday, as CNN reports. It was a disappointment for the 26-year-old—but the real shame here isn’t that Shiffrin was disqualified. It’s the high-pressure, insensitive media coverage of a young athlete when they experience a setback while facing personal struggles. 

After Shiffrin was disqualified, the camera lingered on her sitting in the snow on the side of the course, looking dejected with her head and arms on her knees while commentators lamented what happened. In an interview that was at times difficult to watch, the reporter pressed Shiffrin about what was going on with her as she fought tears and her voice broke. Viewers of NBC’s post-race analysis heard comments like, “Her nightmare in Beijing continues,” ”It ended before it even started,” “You wait four years and your dream can be over within seconds,” and, “To make a mistake like that is just beyond belief,” as CBS News reports.

Fans of the Olympics already know from the heavy media coverage of Shiffrin’s personal story that she is competing in her first Olympics after her father passed away from a severe head injury in 2020. Plus there are the usual mounds of public pressure and performance anxiety that Olympic athletes face. Losing her father and one of her biggest supporters made Shiffrin think about quitting the sport at one point, and she recently shared that the loss of her father has been weighing heavily on her in the lead-up to Beijing. “It’s still pretty painful to think about,” Shiffrin told the Associated Press in January. Shiffrin, who has previously opened up about battling anxiety and working with a sports psychologist to help with her mental game, said she anticipated tough emotions arising. “I imagine there’s going to be some really, really difficult moments,” Shiffrin told AP. “With this, the hard moments hit whenever they want. It’s not when you choose to be sad or excited.”

Knowing what Shiffrin is dealing with made watching the ordeal unfold on TV feel cruel or exploitative for many viewers—not to mention, upsettingly familiar. This is far from the first time we’ve seen a young female athlete dealing with personal traumas and mental health struggles be treated callously by the media when they stumble. Many Olympics fans drew parallels between the Shiffrin coverage and what unfolded in Tokyo this summer with Simone Biles. (Biles withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team competition after experiencing the dangerous “twisties” owing to stress, anxiety, and repressing the trauma of being sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, as SELF has reported.) 

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