Team USA alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin won a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in giant slalom, but now, she's getting attention for getting sick before her second gold medal attempt in the slalom. Commentators asked Mikaela Shiffrin why she threw up before her slalom race, and people aren't happy. Here's what happened: According to the Washington Post, Shiffrin — who has won 30 World Cup slalom events at just 22 years old — hoped to bring home multiple medals from PyeongChang. If she'd won gold in both giant slalom and slalom, she would've become the first U.S. skier with three Olympic gold medals. But Shiffrin placed fourth in the slalom race, dashing her hopes of setting a medal record — and threw up right before she hit the slopes. NBC sportscaster Heather Cox interviewed Shiffrin after her first run in the slalom final and asked, "Mikaela, we saw those nerves get the best of you before the start, vomiting right before you got into the gate. How did you overcome those nerves before the first run?"
Shiffrin responded, "Not very well. That was kind of sudden. It almost felt like a virus." She's previously given interviews about often feeling nauseous before big races because of anxiety. It's also worth noting that a norovirus outbreak in PyeongChang has affected at least two athletes, per the BBC. This super-contagious condition causes diarrhea and vomiting, although Shiffrin told Reuters she “was thinking [sickness] after the first run but it might have been a little bit of me trying to make an excuse.” Whether Shiffrin was hit by nerves or sickness, some viewers had a question for sports commentators: Why did it matter?
Ben Oliva, M.Ed., is a mental performance coach at SportStrata. He tells Bustle that Shiffrin's pre-race experience is a normal one. "There’s a common myth that elite performers don’t get nervous, like, they've got ice water running through their veins. In my experience, that is untrue," he says. "All the elite athletes I’ve worked with in baseball, in football, even they get nervous. It’s just that they can use those nerves to their advantage. They say, 'My adrenaline is going to help me sharpen my senses.' They’re able to harness the extra energy from nervousness."
Oliva says there's a lot to learn from Shiffrin's response to her unexpected fourth place finish. "The whole thing made me think about is how important it is to have a growth mindset at the elite level," he tells Bustle. "If you can focus on getting better — as Shiffrin said, she's going to go back with her teammates and review what happened so it doesn't happen next time — while everyone else wants to figure out who’s to blame. She’s like, 'I just want to figure out so I can get better.'" It's clear that Shiffrin's used to performing under enormous pressure and facing invasive questions. But was the line of questioning necessary? Twitter rushed to Shiffrin's defense.
It's also worth noting that throwing up because you're stressed isn't in an out of the ordinary reaction. According to Prevention, vomiting while facing a lot of stress is common. Given Shiffrin's history with nausea before races, it all makes sense. Oliva says how Shiffrin reacted is more important than what happened. "That’s a lesson that’s really applicable outside of sports. When something doesn't go your way, that’s when those really negative emotions come out — frustration, anger, disappointment. Do you turn that into negative actions? Or do you use that as fuel for your motivation to keep getting better?"
Shiffrin has handled the vomit scrutiny with grace, and she still has downhill and alpine combined competitions ahead of her, which means she could have more chances to win big. I'm cheering her on from home, and based on the Twitter response, I'm not the only one.