Mikaela Shiffrin's Star Turn

By Alan Abrahamson | Feb. 16, 2013, 4:38 p.m. (ET)
Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin (C) of the United States of America celebrates with silver medalist Michaela Kirchgasser (R) of Austria and bronze medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden at the medal ceremony following the women's slalom during the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships on February 16, 2013 in Schladming, Austria.

 
Mikaela Shiffrin reacts after finishing her winning run in the
women's slalom during the Alpine FIS Ski World
Championships on February 16, 2013 in Schladming, Austria.
Mikaela Shiffrin was already a big deal in skiing circles. Now she is a full-fledged star.

And still only 17. Her 18th birthday is next month.

With a fantastic second-leg charge, Shiffrin won the women's slalom Saturday at alpine skiing's 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria.

Shiffrin became skiing's youngest world champion since 1985, third-youngest women's world champion in the event, eighth-youngest world champion in any event.

More: she also became the first American woman to win the slalom in either a world championship or an Olympic Games since Barbara Cochran in 1972.

The winning combined time: 1 minute, 39.85 seconds.

Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria finished second, 22-hundredths back. Frida Hansdotter of Germany took third, four-hundredths further behind.

The medal was the U.S. Ski Team's fourth gold, its fifth overall at the 2013 worlds -- more than any other nation.

They talk about prodigies when it comes to the arts -- say, the piano or the violin.

Mikaela Shiffrin is a prodigy on skis.

Because the Olympic Winter Games will be on TV next February from Sochi and alpine skiing will be broadcast into living rooms across the country, everyone will get to see what it's like to watch Shiffrin do her thing.

They are in for a treat.

Skiing insiders have known for a long time -- a long time in teen years, that is -- that Mikaela Shiffrin could be something special.

In a question-and-answer in the fall of 2011, for instance, the Canadian ski expert Michael Mastarciyan asked Shiffrin if she was ever afraid of failing or considered herself a perfectionist.

The reply:

"I don’t have a fear of failure in skiing. I don’t really want to make a fool of myself, but skiing is something I know by heart and failure isn’t really a concept for me, and it shouldn’t be a concept really for any skier, because you’re out there doing something you love so how can you fail at it if you love it?

If you could bottle that single sentence and sell it, you would be a gazillionaire.

When you think like this -- when you believe in yourself like that -- how can you not win?

There are, of course, other pieces to the puzzle.

Mikaela Shiffrin has great support: from her parents, Jeff and Eileen, and family; from the U.S. Ski Team; from her sponsors.

She's obviously in top-notch physical condition.

But, bottom-line, that passion for the sport and that no-fear approach is how you win.

At 15, Shiffrin ran her first World Cup race. At 16, she won her first World Cup medal.

This season, in December, she won her first World Cup race, in Are, Sweden. In January, she won two more, in Zagreb, Croatia, and Flachau, Austria. No other woman has won more than once; she leads the season World Cup slalom standings.

On Saturday, she ran third in the opening leg. In the second run, she charged the lower half of the course to take that 22-hundredth of a second advantage over Kirchgasser; Finland's Tanja Poutianen ran next but couldn't beat Shiffrin, ultimately finishing fourth; then came Hansdotter, who looked like a winner until the very end, when she faded to third.

On top of everything else, Mikaela Shiffrin is remarkably well-spoken, collected and poised for 17 going on 18.

In a news conference, she was asked whether the "fight with her emotions" she showed in the finish area was tougher than the fight on the hill itself.

The response?

"Doing what I did on the hill today, especially in the second run - skiing is like dancing or flying there are so may ways I can describe it but it just is. And it works for me. But coming down to the finish just knowing it worked and the whole day came together and I had all these opportunities and it worked out is unbelievable. And I can't find an emotion to describe it. It's been 17 years in the making. I'm finally here and doing what I set out to do. And it's a really cool feeling. But when people ask me what I'm feeling and how do I do this - I just don't have an answer. I'm just doing what I do and I don't want to wait."

A few minutes later, in a conference call back to the States with a group of journalists who regularly cover alpine racing, referring to her gold world-championships medal, Shiffrin said, "It's very hard to process. A lot of people never realize their full potential. Their dreams, in a sense, don't come true.

"I'm lucky enough to have gotten opportunities, amazing opportunities. I have a support system around me to help me capitalize on those opportunities. I have opportunities no other girl, no other athlete, might ever get a chance to have.

"It's really crazy. I could never say that I've done this alone -- because that's the opposite of the truth. I've had so much help. But it feels really good to know I've done what I could do to get to this point. It's really amazing, and I'm so grateful for everything that is happening to me."

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