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Olympic power couple: Mikaela Shiffrin shares disappointment with star skier boyfriend

YANQING, China — Aleksander Aamodt Kilde leaned against a barrier some 100 feet beyond an Olympic finish line and pondered a “bad feeling” — just as his girlfriend had four hours earlier.

It was almost 2 p.m. here in suburban Beijing on Monday, a day headlined by a bona fide Winter Games power couple. Mikaela Shiffrin would slalom down a mountain in the morning. Kilde would speed down that same mountain in the afternoon. A few hours later, many believed, they’d star in back-to-back medal ceremonies, and celebrate their first day of Olympic competition as an item.

But instead, Shiffrin crashed out, and Kilde made tiny mistakes, and here he was, speaking for both of them, Alpine skiing favorites who’d come up empty. Switzerland’s Beat Feuz won the men’s downhill. Kilde was a half-second back in fifth, and “that half a second,” he said, “is definitely a little bit sour.”

“But it’s part of the game,” he said.

And Shiffrin’s wipeout?

“That's also part of the game,” he said.

The two had talked briefly in a team hospitality area after Shiffrin’s giant slalom tumble. Shiffrin, he said, “was taking it really well.” She was disappointed, of course. “There’s huge disappointment,” she acknowledged. But she had “to put the pause on really feeling the emotions, or dwelling on it.”

Hours later, Kilde could relate, and it’s in times like these that their shared profession becomes what Kilde has called “a bonus.”

Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde reacts after competing in the men's downhill final during the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing on February 7, 2022. (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP via Getty Images)
Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde reacts after competing in the men's downhill final during the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing on February 7, 2022. (FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP via Getty Images)

They don’t love each other because they’re skiers. They probably wouldn’t have met if they weren’t, years ago on the international circuit, but they started dating because they enjoyed each other. Because they quickly realized that they could talk to each other about anything. With Shiffrin at one of her lowest points, struggling to get out of bed after her father’s death, Kilde, a Norwegian reached out and offered to listen.

From there, consistent communication became a relationship. There were quarantine dates, then a Maui vacation, then the red carpet at the ESPYs. As they went, they realized they made each other better, and lifted each other up in times of despair. “And,” as Kilde said in December, they “learn from each other as skiers.”

And what skiers know more than most is that, as Shiffrin said Monday, “anything can happen. And they happen really, really quickly. … Nothing is given.”

The best of them know to “control what you can control,” as Shiffrin said last week, and what they can control is how they respond to disappointment.

“I'm not gonna cry about this,” Shiffrin said. Kilde wasn’t going to either. He’ll race in the super-G on Tuesday. Shiffrin will go for a slalom title on Wednesday. They’ll watch each other, and help keep each other moving forward.

They entered the Games projected to win four or five medals between them. “I had high expectations for myself today,” Kilde said. “It didn't go 100% as planned.” But he, like Shiffrin, knows that days like Monday are an inescapable feature of this unpredictable sport. Shiffrin especially knows that each Olympics is a long journey.

Might Monday’s faults even propel them toward triumph, and make them more hungry?

“Yeah,” Kilde said eagerly. “Not less hungry, for sure.”