Mikaela Shiffrin knows what it means coping with massive expectations.
The two-time skiing Olympic champion had to deal with it pretty much from the moment she won her first slalom World Cup race at the age of 17.
But even the alpine megastar feels that the pressure for Simone Biles to shine at the Tokyo Olympics was unprecedented: "I don't know if there's any athlete in the world in history who is ever expected to win with such certainty as she was. She was expected to win," Shiffrin told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview at the Atomic Media Day ahead of the start of the World Cup season.
"One hundred percent that people didn't even consider her for any other spot. It was like the gold medal was there, written with her name on it, but she still had to go and flip and twist through the air with perfection in order to actually earn this medal that was decided it was supposed to be for her."
People seem to forget what winning actually entails - added the skier, who feels she can relate to Biles: "It's like if you're supposed to win, of course, it's easy to win because you're that good. But for her, I mean, I know this position, it's never easy to win, is never easy to do what she's doing. That's harder than anything that anybody could imagine. And being in the position where you are expected to do it makes it even more difficult."
Biles withdrew mid-session from the team final competition at Tokyo 2020 to focus on her mental health.
At that time Shiffrin showed her support for the gymnast on Twitter: "Keep whipping out that smile of yours cause it is undeniably golden," she wrote.
The six-time alpine world champion admits that she's still battling with nerves herself: "It always pretty much feels uncomfortable. It's rare that I have a race where I feel good and I've never had a race where I felt totally confident or totally certain," the American says.
"Who am I to judge?"
Biles was criticised by some people on social media after withdrawing from the majority of her events in Tokyo to "protect" her mental health.
Shiffrin says that this made her reflect on her own behaviour too: "If we learn anything from this summer, it's that people are very quick to make judgments and have opinions about something that they couldn't understand."
"Even if you've been in that position or something similar, or even if you were an athlete who competed two years ago, three years ago, five years ago or even yesterday... I am even quick to judge other athletes for the way they perform, and I have to stop, like kick myself and say, 'What am I doing? I know how it feels to be in that position and feel like I have to perform', and here I am. It's like being part of the group that's putting this pressure on them. And it's like, 'Take a step back, who am I to judge'?"