March 12, 2015

ARE, Sweden (AP) Mikaela Shiffrin's days as a teenage sensation are over - and she doesn't mind one bit.

The American has been Alpine skiing's wunderkind for so long that she can't wait to celebrate her 20th birthday on the giant slalom course in Are on Friday.

''It's something that I've been thinking about a bit. People are like `rookie Mikaela Shiffrin,''' she told The Associated Press on her last day as a teenager. ''Why don't I count as a veteran yet? What do I have to do? Do a backflip on skis in the race?''

Having collected more silverware in her teens than most skiers do in their lifetime, she doesn't need to do anything, really. Shiffrin already has Olympic and world championship gold medals, 13 World Cup wins, and two crystal globes for the best slalom skier.

In Are - the penultimate stop on the World Cup circuit - she's looking for a strong result in the giant slalom, but her main focus is the slalom on Saturday, when she will be trying to protect her lead in the World Cup standings in that discipline. Shiffrin pushed Sweden's Frida Hansdotter into second place by winning the previous slalom in Maribor, Slovenia.

''I was really excited in Maribor to take back the lead, but I know it's not that easy to keep,'' Shiffrin said. ''I know Frida is going to put up a fight.''

Hansdotter, who was second to Shiffrin at the world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and trails the American by 30 points in the slalom standings, promised to do just that.

''I'm hoping it's going to be a fight right until the end,'' said Hansdotter, who will be racing before her home crowd. ''Last year (Shiffrin) was a bit more dominant. She had won the slalom title already before the finals. But now it's tighter.''

Shiffrin admitted she had ''huge amounts of doubt'' after poor results and equipment problems at the start of this season. She didn't even make the top 10 in the first slalom race in Levi.

''All of a sudden I felt very human, very mortal,'' she said. ''It was like I was going back to my first World Cup race again. And I had no idea if I actually belonged there.''

After some adjustments to her boots and skis, she returned to her winning ways at the end of December in Kuethai, Austria. After that she won two more World Cup slaloms, and successfully defended her world championship title in the discipline.

''I'm comfortable now because I feel I know a little bit more about my equipment,'' she said. ''I understand it better.''

The early season struggles in slalom made her drop plans to compete in the super-G, something she now hopes to do next season. Mastering speed events will be key for Shiffrin to become a contender for the overall World Cup title. She's fourth in the overall, far behind leaders Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger, two of the favorites in Friday's giant slalom.

''Adding super-G is going to be a much bigger burden than I initially thought,'' Shiffrin said. ''It's really tough to gauge line and terrain and tactics and the whole thing. It's just a whole another level.''

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