Luca Bruno/Associated Press
Luca Bruno/Associated Press
SCHLADMING, Austria – Not every 17-year-old walks into her first World Championships with medal expectations and a roomful of media.
For American Mikaela Shiffrin, it’s another challenge she’s handling like an old pro ahead of today’s giant slalom. The high school student has won three World Cup slaloms to match a season record set by Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell.
When Shiffrin won last month, she was exactly the same age – 17 years, 308 days – as Moser-Proell was when she earned her third career victory in 1971. Moser-Proell holds the record of 62 World Cup wins.
That explains why it wasn’t just American media asking Shiffrin how she’s handling it all but also Austrian, German and Swiss reporters.
“Pressure is just a frame of mind,” Shiffrin said. “I’m doing this for me. I’m racing because I’ve always loved racing, that adrenaline rush that can’t be replaced. That’s all I’m doing when I’m in the start. I’m not thinking about what my friends want me to do or what my parents want me to do. ... It’s as simple as that.”
In the giant slalom, she’s had three top-10 finishes this season. The main event is Saturday’s slalom, where she’ll be a top contender along with overall World Cup leader Tina Maze, Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Veronika Velez Zuzulova – who has won two races this season – and Marlies Schild.
Shiffrin holds a 33-point lead over Maze in the World Cup slalom standings, but she’s quick to point out that most of her success this season has come since Schild was sidelined by a right-knee injury while training in December.
Schild, who has won 33 World Cup slaloms, one short of Swiss standout Vreni Schneider’s record, is planning to return for Saturday’s race.
“I’ve had three wins, and I’m proud of it, but I’ve always felt like there was that piece missing because Marlies is a slalom queen,” Shiffrin said this week. “I can win snow princess or all these different titles, but she wasn’t there, so I’m excited to have her back. I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on her, but I think she’s going to perform strongly, and I’m really excited to race against her. It’s a complete field now.”
Shiffrin warmed up for the worlds by training with the Italian men’s team last week.
“In a run of 50 seconds, she was losing one or two seconds to guys like (Stefano) Gross and (Olympic champion Giuliano) Razzoli,” U.S. technical coach Roland Pfeifer said.
By the next World Championships on Shiffrin’s home slopes in Vail-Beaver Creek in 2015, she could be entered in more than just the technical events.
Shiffrin’s goal is to become an all-around skier such as teammate Lindsey Vonn, who is sidelined after suffering a knee injury on opening day of these worlds.
“She has one very clear goal, to become the overall World Cup champion as fast as possible,” Pfeifer said. “That’s what she’s saying; that’s what she’s working on. I think she hasn’t realized yet that when she adds super-G and downhill to the program, she will have less time to train slalom and GS.”
For now, the coaches are keeping Shiffrin focused on the technical events.
“In GS, her turns are not consistent yet,” Pfeifer said. “If we do 10 runs, she will have two perfect runs and eight rather moderate ones.
“As long as she’s not perfect in slalom and GS, we won’t even talk about the speed disciplines. She already wants to enter these events. We will do a little bit of super-G next season, but as soon as we see that slalom and GS are suffering, we’ll cut it back.”
But he sees the upside.
“She has enormous potential as a super-G and downhill racer,” Pfeifer said. “She’s an excellent glider.”
Associated Press writer Eric Willemsen contributed to this report.