Champions Corner

22-year-old Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin has a surprising ritual before races

Mikaela Shiffrin shares advice on how to pursue your dreams
Mikaela Shiffrin shares advice on how to pursue your dreams

After a couple weather delays, the world was growing anxious to see the promising 22-year-old American Mikaela Shiffrin finally compete in Pyeongchang. On Thursday morning, she didn't disappoint, bringing home the gold in the giant slalom competition.

She wasn't the event's outright favorite, as she is for tonight's slalom race, which she won a gold medal for during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. However, she was always strong contender. She trailed by 0.20 seconds after her first run, and ended up making up for it during her second, finishing 0.39 seconds ahead of Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway to solidify the win.

But she has a secret to her success: Between the two runs, she napped.

US Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
Srdjan Zivulovic | Reuters

"I do it on every race,'' Shiffrin said after the race, USA Today reports. "There's always a little bit of time between the first and the second run and I think I had an hour today where I could sort of lie down for an hour on a bench in corner of the lodge."

"I had my music on, my big headphones and noise canceling so I couldn't hear anything except my music and I fell asleep," she added.

It's not just the days she races. When it comes to napping, for Shiffrin there are no days off. "She averages nine hours of sleep a night and is famous for her naps — she requires an hour a day, and has been known to snooze in the snow in the starting area of a race," writes The New Yorker.

And it's certainly not laziness. In fact, "deliberate" napping is a common habit of successful people. The psychologist Karl Anders Ericsson, who ran a famous study assessing what set apart the best violin students from the others at a Berlin conservatory, had two main conclusions: Top students focused intently on practicing for a few hours a day and they took deliberate rests.

That said, Shiffrin does occasionally snooze off by accident. She admitted that she occasionally falls asleep on chairlifts during an appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers."

NBC reports that some of her teammates even call her "Sir Naps A Lot."

Still, there's no doubting her work ethic. "Her need of ski racing is like a need for oxygen," an old teammate of hers told The New Yorker. She has both essential traits of a prodigy, claims the publication, "a rage to master and an ability to learn rapidly."

That's what success comes down to, she says: Wanting it and hard work. "A lot of the fun is just learning how to enjoy the process of getting there," Shiffrin told CNBC Make It before the games. "There's a lot of work done in the dark."


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Don't miss: How some Olympians are embracing jet lag and using sleep deprivation to their advantage

Video by Jonathan Fazio

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.

4 U.S. Olympic medalists share their advice on how to succeed in life
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