Shiffrin overcomes nerves to capture title
American teen becomes third-youngest to win slalom championship
SCHLADMING, AUSTRIA — Mikaela Shiffrin might as well be dancing or flying.
That’s what skiing is like for the American teenager these days. The victories and milestones keep piling up, fortifying a U.S. team that is without Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller.
A day after Ted Ligety became the first man to win three gold medals at a world championships in 45 years, Shiffrin became the youngest woman in 39 years to win the slalom title Saturday.
At the age of 17 years 340 days, Shiffrin shook off a serious bout of nerves to edge local hope Michaela Kirchgasser from the lead before a crowd of 30,000 fans who were nearly all supporting the Austrian.
“Doing what I did on the hill today, especially in the second run, just skiing, is like dancing or flying,” Shiffrin said. “There’s so many ways that I can describe it. But it just is, and it works for me.
“It’s been 17 years in the making and everybody says that it comes so fast but it seems like it’s been forever for me. . . . I am just doing what I do and I don’t want to wait.”
The only slalom world champions younger than Shiffrin were Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein in 1974 and Esme Mackinnon of Britain in 1931. Overall, Shiffrin is the youngest women’s world champion since American Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, who was 21 days younger when she won the giant slalom title in 1985.
Shiffrin won her first three races this season to lead the World Cup slalom standings and set up big expectations for her first major championship. That explains the jitters before the opening run in which she placed third.
“My muscles just all morning felt so sluggish and tired like I was still sleeping,” she said. “I just couldn’t move my feet fast enough. As I got down the run my legs started to wake up.”
Between runs, Shiffrin had a hot chocolate and ran around to get the blood flowing.
“And all of sudden two minutes before start I felt my muscles, they were alive,” she said. “And my head cleared and all of a sudden it was like a whole new day.”
For Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, who was watching from the stands, it wasn’t that simple.
“I was nervous because I knew that she said that she couldn’t feel her legs before the run,” Eileen Shiffrin said. “I amreally proud of her. For all the kids out there, here is a lesson — you can (do) something good even if you are really, really nervous.”
After taking the lead in the second run, Shiffrin watched Tan- ja Poutiainen of Finland and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden fail to match her time. Shiffrin finished in a combined time of 1 minute 39.85 seconds with Kirchgasser 0.22 behind in second and Hansdotter third, 0.26 back.
After Hansdotter crossed the finish and Shiffrin realized she had won, the American looked around in disbelief before hugging Kirchgasser several times. Shiffrin’s parents, Jeff and Eileen, tearfully embraced in the stands.
During the podium ceremony, Shiffrin breathed heavily but held back tears as she sang the American anthem, with her father videotaping the scene. Shiffrin’s older brother, Taylor, was also there.
Shriffrin’s parents were both ski racers, but it was when Taylor started to race that she realized she wanted to be a part of the sport.
TOP: Mikaela Shiffrin clears a gate during her winning run. ABOVE: The 17-year-old skier shows off her gold medal.