America's New Teen Sweetheart: Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin, who turned 18 this week, is going to be making the rounds this coming week in New York City. Tuesday night it's the David Letterman program. Wednesday morning it's the Today show.
This is what happens when you have the sort of breakout season Shiffrin struck for herself on the alpine ski racing tour, the kind she cemented with a fantastic, come-from-behind victory Saturday to win the season-long slalom title at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Shiffrin was not only down by 1.17 seconds after the first run, which is a huge margin, she was behind Tina Maze of Slovenia, who has had the best season of any skier -- male or female -- in ski racing history.
Shiffrin then went out in her second run and simply scorched it in a 56.76-second run. No one was remotely close. Her winning time: 1:55.60.
Bernadette Schild of Austria took second, her first-ever World Cup podium finish, in 1:55.8; Maze dropped to third, in 1:55.95.
Her win came on the same day that Ted Ligety, also skiing in Lenzerheide, won his sixth giant slalom of the season. He and the legendary Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden are the only racers to have ever won six or more World Cup giant slalom races in a single season.
Ligety locked down the season World Cup giant slalom title last weekend after winning in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
Maze, meanwhile, started Saturday with a seven-point lead in the season slalom standings. With Saturday's 1-3 finish, Shiffrin ends the season with 688 slalom points, Maze 655.
For the season, Maze has 2,314 overall points. And counting. There's a giant slalom scheduled for Sunday.
This was Maze's 23rd top-three finish of the year.
She said, in remarks published on the FIS website, "23 podiums in a season [is] of course positive. It has been an amazing season and it is not easy to keep up the pace that I had, standing on the podium week after week.
"As far as the season goes, I am really proud but of course on days like today, especially right after the race the disappointment is high. The sadness will go away but it's normal to feel disappointed when you have an opportunity like the one I had today. You have to learn from your mistakes. Mikaela has been dominating slalom the whole season and I don't think I lost the globe here today but somewhere else."
Shiffrin becomes the first U.S. slalom champ since Tamara McKinney in the 1984 season.
Shiffirin is the first non-European to win four World Cup slalom races in a season.
She also stands as the third non-European to win the slalom title. The others: McKinney, and Betsy Clifford in the 1971 season.
For emphasis, once more -- Mikaela Shiffrin is only 18.
After the race, she made three comments that speak to what a special talent she is.
Here is the first. It underscores characteristics alpine racers have to have: confidence, indeed fearlessness:
"After the first run, I went directly to our athlete tent and just tried to sit quietly and figure out what I needed to do to make it better. That's something that I've always done, is just analyze what I could do better and make it better. It's hard to do that between runs in a race But my mom helped. My coaches helped. My dad helped. Everybody.
"They all said the same thing: 'You have to let it go. You can not hold back. There is nothing to lose.' So I tried to do that."
The second shows off what a class act she is.
"I think half of this globe belongs to someone else. I want to thank Tina Maze. She has really helped inspire me. It felt good that second run but I was freaking out.
"She's my greatest idol this season and I respect her so much. Some part of me wanted her to win just to prove once again that she's the greatest skier in the world this season. But I wanted to win because it was my goal and I don't want to give up my goal. It happened that I won today and I'm really grateful for that."
The third is maybe the best. Mikaela Shiffrin, again, is just 18. The Sochi Olympic Winter Games are coming straight up. Wait until she shows up on Letterman and the Today show and they see what she is about. Because she is -- genuine.
"Yeah, Letterman! I'm so excited about that. It's going to be really cool. Hopefully I don't trip when I'm gong on stage. If you knew me for longer than a day you would know that I spill things and I break things and I trip a lot. You would not think I'd be good at slalom. So we'll see how that goes."