Shiffrin of U.S. gets first World Cup slalom win
Mikaela Shiffrin showed that the American ski team can live without Lindsey Vonn, at least for a little while.
In the first World Cup race since Vonn said she was taking a break from the circuit, the 17-year-old Shiffrin picked up the slack quite nicely. She won a night slalom, edging Sweden's Frida Hansdotter for her first World Cup victory.
Shiffrin has been touted as the next American ski star, and she performed like one under the floodlights on Are's Olympia course. An outstanding second run gave her a combined time of 1 minute, 45.36 seconds.
"This is huge," Shiffrin said. "I think the best part besides the skiing was the ceremony. It made me cry a little bit when I heard the American anthem."
Shiffrin was second after the first run and was then challenged by overall World Cup leader Tina Maze, who had a blazing second run to take a large lead just before the American was to ski. But Shiffrin kept her composure in a run that was even faster, setting a time that first-run leader Hansdotter couldn't match.
Hansdotter was still ahead of the American at the first two intermediate times but wasn't as fast in the final section and finished 0.29 seconds behind for second place. Maze was third, 0.52 behind.
"It wasn't two perfect runs but it was two fast runs," Shiffrin said. "Ahead of the second run, I guess I didn't really feel any pressure. It felt more like something was pushing me forward rather than something pulling me towards the finish line."
Hansdotter was happy despite missing out on her first career World Cup win in front of a home crowd.
"Of course, I was in the lead ahead of the second run," she said. "But at the same time, crossing the finish line as No. 2 here at home is fantastic."
Vonn, whose first World Cup victory came at 20, is returning to the U.S. over the holidays to fully recover from an intestinal illness that landed her in the hospital last month.
At 17 years and nine months, Shiffrin became the youngest women's World Cup winner since Lara Gut of Switzerland won a super-G in St. Moritz in 2008, also at 17. The U.S. team said Shiffrin is the third youngest American to win a World Cup race behind Kiki Cutter (16 years, seven months) and Judy Nagel (17 years, five months).
Asked if she's been contacted by Vonn yet, Shiffrin said she hopes her idol is resting, not watching.
"I hope that when she comes back and she feels really well and fired up for racing again, then she'll be able to congratulate me in her own way," Shiffrin said. "I hope that right now she's not too worried about what's going on in these races and that she's taking some time off for herself."
Shiffrin already had two podium finishes in slalom, but the impressive victory is likely to create even higher expectations. And she's not quite sure she's ready for that.
"I don't really like the success," she said. "I like to sleep at night and I like to hang around the hotel room with my mom. I'm afraid there might be a little hype with this. But I'll take it. This is what I love to do."
Shiffrin leads the World Cup slalom standings ahead of Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who was 11th Thursday. The American has 196 points, 22 points more than Hoefl-Riesch.
But the teenager said she's not focusing on the standings just yet.
"My only focus is just to ski my best every day. I'll be happy with a world championship medal or a 15th place, as long as I'm skiing my best," she said.
Shiffrin plans to celebrate Christmas in Europe with her mother, Eileen, who travels the circuit with her.
"She's my biggest help in the world. She keeps me focused and grounded," Shiffrin said. "I'm sure she'll talk to me in the next couple of days to make sure my head doesn't get too big."