Shiffrin over­comes nerves to cap­ture ti­tle

Amer­i­can teen be­comes third-youngest to win slalom cham­pi­onship

The Washington Post Sunday - - WPSPORTS - BY AN­DREW DAMPF

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.

ALESSAN­DRO TROVATI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DO­MINIC EBENBICHLER/REUTERS

TOP: Mikaela Shiffrin clears a gate dur­ing her win­ning run. ABOVE: The 17-year-old skier shows off her gold medal.

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