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US skiing sensation Mikaela Shiffrin celebrated her 20th birthday on 13 March 2015 in now typical fashion, claiming yet another slalom win in Are (SWE) the very next day. A week later, she followed up with victory at the FIS Ski World Cup Finals in Meribel (FRA), beating off Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, her fiercest rival during the latest campaign, to seal a third straight slalom crystal globe.
“Frida has been pushing me hard all season,” said Shiffrin after her Meribel triumph. “She’s been skiing so fast and I really had to give it my all in the second run to get the win today. When I hit the flat section I had a good feeling, but knew I had to give it everything I had if I wanted to win, and luckily it worked out.”
Shiffrin has grown used to things working out since she burst on to the scene in 2013. Since then she has won back-to-back world titles, three straight slalom World Cup crowns and Olympic gold.
That Olympic triumph came on the back of a string of World Cup wins, with the bubbly American in typically buoyant mood by the time her date with destiny in Sochi came around: “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.”
Shiffrin did just that in the first run, opening up a sizeable lead over the rest of the field. Then came a nerve-wracking wait for the second run. Aware that the gold medal was within her grasp, she could barely contain herself: “I was a little nervous, but excited too. I really wanted to push off. When the starter came for me I just wanted him to let me go. I asked him: ‘Has it really been two minutes?’ because it felt like eight to me.”
When the moment finally came, Shiffrin launched herself down the course in trademark style and recovered from a big error at the midpoint to cross the line over half a second clear of Austrian duo Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel.
Ecstatic at becoming youngest ever Olympic champion of the Alpine skiing Slalom event at the age of only 18 years and 345 days, the American star said: “It definitely is a dream come true. I’m so happy to be in this position, and I couldn’t be happier sharing the podium with Marlies and Kathrin.”
“Right now, I’m dreaming of the next Olympics [and] winning five gold medals, which sounds really crazy.”
Judging by Shiffrin’s superlative form in 2014/15, there is nothing outlandish about that goal. As well as amassing five victories in her favoured event, she also scored her first ever giant slalom win, in the opening race of the season at Sölden last October, and was a permanent fixture in the top ten of the GS standings throughout the campaign.
As if that were not enough, Shiffrin retained her slalom world title on home snow in Vail (USA) in February 2015. Posting the fastest time on the first run, the American recovered from a slow start to her second to win from Hansdotter, much to the delight of her vociferous supporters.
The sky appears to be the limit for women’s skiing’s hottest new star, whose all-round ability could yet see her make a move into downhill and super G and attempt that unprecedented clean sweep at PyeongChang 2018. Happy birthday, Mikaela!