Column: Shiffrin's devastation stirs lessons from Biles

BEIJING (AP), -- Mikaela Shiffrin was a bit too careless on the course. Another expected gold medal was slipping away just before she got to the start, but the announcers at NBC allowed her to keep it.

Column: Shiffrin's devastation stirs lessons from Biles

BEIJING (AP), -- Mikaela Shiffrin was a bit too careless on the course. Another expected gold medal was slipping away just before she got to the start, but the announcers at NBC allowed her to keep it.

Play-by-play Dan Hicks declared, "One of the biggest shockers in Olympic alpine ski history."

Ted Ligety, an analyst and two-time gold medalist, said, "Almost a rookie error."

Shiffrin was captured by the cameras as she sat down on her artificial snow, head bent, arms crossed, and knees bent, trying to process an unimaginable outcome from the first run.

NBC seemed determined not to show Shiffrin's tears. They even failed to show the next skiers who took to the dangerous course of Ice River.

However, times have changed. Simone Biles exposed her mental-health problems to the world at Tokyo Games. Other athletes have followed her lead.

It was not surprising that social media quickly turned its ire on the network that had focused so much of its coverage upon Shiffrin being one the most prominent stars.

One person tweeted, "Some really shameful coverage from NBC of Michaela Schiffrin." "Just pure trauma porn for their ratings rather than treating her as a human being."

"NBC MUST STOP TORTURING MIKAELA SCHIFFRIN!" Another viewer shared the following:

This raises interesting questions:

Is it okay to criticize an athlete who fails to live up to expectations at a major event like the Winter Olympics?

We should not linger on our disappointment for too long before it becomes more like an ambulance chase than genuine coverage.

These are questions journalists have been asking for years. But Biles' Tokyo ordeal -- where the world's best gymnast quit one event after another because she didn't feel mentally ready to compete -- has added another layer to the discussion.

From Naomi Osaka, a tennis star, to Calvin Ridley, an NFL receiver, to Caeleb Dressel who is a swimming champion have spoken out about their fragile mental health and the emotional toll of competing at the highest level.

Journalists, regardless of whether they work for a network that broadcasts the Olympics at a staggering cost or represent the hometown newspaper of an athlete, still have a job.

The story must be told openly and honestly without any staring in our eyes.

Fair play to NBC. The network would have been accused of coddling an Olympics asset if it had cut away quickly after Shiffrin fell out of the slalom. This is a shocking result considering that she did the exact same thing in her first event at these Games, the giant slalom.

Shiffrin was gracious, honest, and revealing during her interview with NBC. She was also on a long, tedious journey through mixed zone, where all the media from around the world was gathered.

Shiffrin said that "Pretty much everything makes it second-guess me the past 15 years." "Everything I thought that I knew about my skiing, slalom, and racing mentality."

She was the first person to admit that the Winter Games were not as she had expected. Even though NBC's coverage was a bit exploitive, it does not change the reality.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist stated, with her eyes moistened by tears, that it felt like a big letdown.

No matter how much pressure the media puts on athletes, many will tell you that it's not nearly as much as the pressure they put on themselves.

Shiffrin felt that burden long before she ever attempted to climb the mountain. She knew that it was essentially gold or bust for a skier whose ability had become almost as automatic as the tides.

She managed to finish the two most difficult events at the Olympics in less than 20 seconds.

She said, "It really feels as a lot of effort for nothing," and her words were brimming with heartbreak.

Retrospectively, Shiffrin wasn't in the best physical or mental state when she arrived in Beijing.

She still grieves the loss of Jeff, her father. He died two years ago after sustaining a serious head injury in an accident at their Colorado home.

Not to mention that her training was hindered by a back issue in October and November. This was followed by a bout in December with COVID-19.

Nevertheless, it was not what anyone expected.

Shiffrin is the least of all.

She said that she had never been in such a position before and that she didn't know how to deal with it.

These are the lessons she will have to learn over the coming days, weeks, and throughout her entire life.

In the meantime, all of us who document these stories for the rest the world need to look at ways that we can be more compassionate and empathic, while not skimping on the difficult parts.

Shiffrin isn't the only one to slip.

They won't be caught, but we might make landing easier.

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