Just 18 years old, Mikaela Shiffrin blazed her way into Olympic history by winning the women’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
She became the youngest Olympic gold medalist ever in women’s slalom and the first American to win an Olympic slalom race, male or female, since Phil Mahre in 1984.
It was an Olympic performance that was highly noticed back home.
“That was a tough course, not the best snow, and she dominated it,” said three-time Olympic shooting medalist Matt Emmons.
“A phenom who also has a huge heart,” said Esther Lofgren, who won her first gold medal with the U.S. women’s eight boat at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “I can’t wait to follow her in the next several Games.”
Shiffrin is one of four finalists in the Best Female Olympian category in the inaugural Best of U.S. awards program being presented by the United States Olympic Committee.
The other finalists are Jamie Anderson, who won the gold medal in the Olympic debut of women’s slopestyle snowboarding; Maddie Bowman, who won the gold medal in the Olympic debut of women’s halfpipe skiing; and Erin Hamlin, who won the bronze medal in women’s luge and became the first U.S. medalist in singles luge.
Fans can vote for their favorites through March 21 on the U.S. Olympic Team Facebook page in four categories: Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Olympic Games. In addition, categories for Male, Female, Team and Moment of the Paralympic Games will open after that competition wraps up on March 16. A Team Behind the Team Award and Fan of the Games Award are also up for grabs.
Of the four women finalists, all represent the future of Team USA at the Winter Games. Each won an Olympic medal for the first time and only Hamlin had previous Olympic experience.
Anderson, who won her first Winter X Games medal as a 15-year-old in 2006, clinched gold in Sochi with a near-perfect score of 95.25 on her second run.
“Her love of sport and free spirit is contagious,” said rower Mary Whipple, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the U.S. women’s eight boat. “She is a great example of how winning will take care of itself as long as you focus on what is possible and what you can become through competition.”
Hamlin became only the second athlete from a country other than Germany or Austria to win a women’s luge medal since 1980. Her performance was the favorite of three-time women’s soccer Olympic medalist Brandi Chastain and four-time Olympic water polo medalist Brenda Villa.
|Donna de Varona|
“Any time you can break the hold other countries have on the podium is an amazing feat,” Villa said. “It helps your sport grow and it shows your belief and confidence in doing something no one else before you has done. It hits home for me, playing a sport that is considered a ‘European sport.’ I get it. Well done, Erin!”
“Erin’s medal is not only a great personal accomplishment, but she has now broken through for future Americans in singles luge,” said Mariel Zagunis, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s fencing. “Her result will instill the belief that Americans belong on the podium and are now there to stay.”
Donna de Varona, a three-time gold medalist in swimming, said she was impressed by the daring performances Bowman (and Best Male candidate David Wise) showed in their winning halfpipe skiing performances.
“I did hear that the inaugural halfpipe venue was dangerous,” she said. “Maddie Bowman and David Wise obviously paid no attention to the rumors, both capturing golds for the USA.”
The question surrounding Shiffrin seems to be: How many more Olympic medals are coming?
“To do what she is doing at her age is unreal,” said Henrik Rummel, a bronze medalist in rowing at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “It’s great watching what is obviously going to be a star in the sport. Can’t wait to see her defend her gold in four years.”
“Mikaela has the mental toughness of a competitor twice her age,” said Timmy Duggan, a 2012 Olympic cyclist.
“Mikaela Shiffrin impressed me by her maturity, her articulateness and her overwhelming power in the face of much more seasoned competitors,” said John Naber, a four-time gold medalist in swimming at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games. “She’s the real deal.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.