Just 18 years old, U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin isn’t just one of the world’s best slalom skiers. She is the world’s best.
Shiffrin emerged powerfully in the 2012-13 FIS World Cup season, winning the slalom overall points championship and then winning a gold medal in slalom at the 2013 FIS World Championships. She was the fourth youngest in world cup history to win the slalom championship globe and the sixth youngest in any world cup discipline.
Shiffrin enters women’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games as one of the top contenders in what will be her second Olympic event this week. The slalom, which consists of two runs, will be held Friday Feb. 21, at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
She made her Olympic debut Tuesday in the giant slalom, finishing fifth in weather conditions that included snow at the top of the course at Krasnaya Polyana and rain at the bottom of the course. Even that was an impressive finish for a rookie Olympian who has never won a giant slalom event at the world cup level.
“I wanted a gold, but I think this was meant to happen,” Shiffrin said. “It’s something that I’ll learn from. Next Olympics I go to, I’m sure as heck not getting fifth.”
Shiffrin will bring that determination into Friday’s slalom, her signature event. She has won three world cup slalom races this season and finished second in another, leading the world cup points standings in slalom. Among her rivals also chasing after slalom Olympic gold are Tina Maze of Slovenia, who won gold medals in the downhill and giant slalom, and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who also medaled twice in Sochi by winning the super combined and finishing second in the super-G.
“Maria’s one of those athletes I think is a true champion because she’s been able to perform across the board, in the world cup, the world championships and the Olympics,” Shiffrin said. “She’s a real competitor and she’s going to be a great competitor in the slalom as well as many other girls who’ve been pushing me. And I hope I’ll push them.”
Shiffrin is one of four Americans scheduled to compete in slalom. Resi Stiegler, Julia Ford and Megan McJames also are in the event.
The quest for gold began at an early age for Shiffrin.
She was on skis at age 3 and was the NorAm women’s slalom champion in 2011. She made her first world cup start at the age of 15. She earned her first world cup podium finish at 16. She won the first of four world cup races in 2013 at age 17. As a quick comparison, three-time Olympian and four-time world cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn won her first race at age 20.
When she won the 2013 world championship in Austria at age 17, Shiffrin became the youngest American skier, male or female, to win a world title in slalom.
Shiffrin’s quick rise through international slalom has carried her to the edge of a run at an Olympic medal Friday night. Wearing bib No. 6 under the lights at Krasnaya Polyana, she will attempt to become the youngest women’s slalom gold medalist in Olympic history.
“I‘ve been here before in my head, for sure,” Shiffrin said at a press conference in Sochi last week. “To everybody this is my first Olympics, but to me, it‘s my thousandth.”