BEIJING, China — Spending months apart from her boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde is tough on Mikaela Shiffrin but having someone she can share every detail of her private and professional life with is what makes their relationship special, the U.S. skier said.
Twice Olympic gold medalist Shiffrin is one of the biggest stars of the Beijing Olympics and a favorite to medal in alpine skiing, while Kilde is a leading contender to add to Norway's alpine skiing tally in the men's speed events.
The pair began dating last year when Shiffrin was devastated by the tragic death of her father and Kilde was recovering from a terrible knee injury that left him on crutches for months.
"We met somewhere around seven years ago and I think he started the conversation by saying 'Hi'," Shiffrin told Reuters.
"He also sent the first friend request. He technically asked me on a date later that year but I sort of denied him. I thought I was being cute, but he seems to have taken it as a rejection."
It took a little over six more years before love blossomed in what was a dark time in both their lives.
"He never ever stopped being nice and friendly but also always very respectful, especially because at some points I was in a relationship and he had a couple relationships as well over that time frame," Shiffrin added.
"Last year he got in touch with me again with a really nice and supportive message to my family once I started racing again after my dad's accident and this time we just never stopped chatting."
Their romance has been complicated by their unforgiving schedules. Shiffrin and Kilde spend much of their time competing on the world skiing circuit, usually thousands of miles apart.
"The worst thing is that we are often taken in different directions, so we don't get to be together that much, but even then we both still understand and that makes it much easier even when we are apart," she said.
"We don't really try to separate (our private and professional lives). One of the most special things is that we can actually share both.
"You can relate on every level to the excitement and also the disappointment that goes along with the sport. It's really special to feel like he's riding that rollercoaster right with me."
Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 will likely be all about training, however, despite both of them living close to each other in the athletes' village in Yanqing.
"Most likely (I will spend it) doing a downhill training run," Shiffrin said. "There's not a lot we can really do here romantically and for both of us our focus is completely on competing."
The competition begins on Sunday with the men's downhill, in which Kilde is the gold medal favourite, before the women's giant slalom on Monday, the race in which Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic champion.
"We share in each other's successes and also disappointments," she added. "There's a lot of expectation on both of us, and we have high expectations for ourselves as well.
"We're both just trying to help the other navigate that and feel supported."