Mikaela Shiffrin, Slalom’s teenage sensation
A mere 17-year-old when she became the slalom world champion at Schladming in February 2013, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin followed that feat by clinching the FIS World Cup crystal globe a month later. Not surprisingly, the teen sensation is widely expected to star at Sochi 2014.
Things have always happened fast for Mikaela Shiffrin, who was virtually born on skis in Vail, Colorado. Blessed with a natural gift for skiing, she contested her first FIS event, a Nor-Am Cup super combined race in Panorama, Canada, as soon as she turned 15, the minimum age for competitors. That same year, 2010, Mikaela won slalom bronze at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Crans Montana, Switzerland. Then at the age of 16 she became the USA’s youngest ever national champion when she won the slalom, her favourite event, and went on to score her first World Cup podium finish in Linz, Austria, on 29 December 2011. After starting 40th, she lay 12th at the end of the first run and then went fastest on the second leg to climb up to third.
Poetry in motion
Shiffrin swept all before her in the following season’s World Cup. After picking up her maiden win in Are, Sweden on 20 December 2012, she triumphed again in Zagreb, Croatia, at the start of January, and topped the podium once more in Flachau, Austria, two weeks later. She completed the job on 16 March 2013, just three days after turning 18, when she won the World Cup finals in Lanzerheide, Switzerland, to secure the slalom crystal globe ahead of Slovenia’s Tina Maze. It was during that golden spell that she also became slalom world champion in Schladming, Austria, on 16 February, climbing up from third place to claim the title with a flawless second run. “It’s my art,” said the youngster of her sport. “It’s like a puzzle or a painting or music. When I ski, it’s like a song. I can hear the rhythm in my head, and when I start to ski that rhythm and I start to really link my turns together, all of a sudden there's so much flow and power that I just can't help but feel amazing. That’s where the joy comes from.”
Along with Ted Ligety, the record-breaking teenager will be one of the spearheads of a very competitive US Alpine team in Sochi. Currently working hard on her giant slalom skills, the intensely focused Shiffrin is also busy learning German, the lingua franca of the ski circuit.
In the first slalom race of the 2013/14 FIS World Cup campaign in Levi, Finland, on 16 November, Shiffrin went fastest in both legs to pick up where she left off the previous season, consolidating her status as favourite to win Olympic gold in the event on 21 February in Russia. “I’m going to go into it guns blazing, hoping I’m going to take every bit of fun out of it that I can, no matter how stressful and chaotic it is,” said the likeable youngster, describing her no-holds barred approach to a sport that she has taken by storm.