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Sochi 2014: U.S. Olympic slalom skier has chance to become superstar

By MIKE RABUN, United Press International   |   Jan. 19, 2014 at 5:04 AM   |   Comments

In the midst of all the skiing and skating and sledding that takes place during the Winter Olympics, an athlete occasionally transcends the competition.

Apolo Anton Ohno, for instance, became quite the cult hero while trying to win medals in the roughhouse sport of short-track speed skating and he created enough of a reputation to land a television gig for the upcoming Games in Sochi.

Shawn White burst upon the scene with his long, red hair and his snowboarding prowess and even though his hair is a lot shorter these days he will be one of the most well-known of the athletes representing the United States in Russia.

Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn has also become a household name in households that pay attention to sports and despite the knee problems that will keep her out of these Olympics her notoriety has only increased since she and Tiger Woods became a celebrity couple.

So who might emerge from the 2014 Olympics and capture the attention of those who might not otherwise be riveted to their television sets?

Mikaela Shiffrin has a very good chance.

Shiffrin, 18, has already become a star in her sport. But it is at the Olympics where competitors can become more than stars.

Her area of expertise is slalom skiing, where precision more than raw speed is key. During the 2012-13 season, Shiffrin became the first skier from outside Europe to win four slalom races on the World Cup circuit in the same year and she added the world championship gold medal to her total.

This season there have been three more race victories and she is well on her way to a second consecutive year-long slalom title.

Shiffrin is one of just three Americans ever to stand at the top of an alpine skiing World Cup podium at least three times in two consecutive years, joining superstars Phil Mahre and Bode Miller.

She lives in Colorado and has a smile made for HDTV.

Shiffrin was 3 when she put on a pair of skis and glided down the family driveway.

She was a mere 15 when she made her debut on the World Cup circuit and she was 16 when she first stood on the podium at an international slalom race.

And then she began to pile up one-of-a-kind achievements.

In the 2012-13 World Cup campaign she became the youngest American, at 17, to win the season championship in any of the alpine skiing events. She became the first American woman to win the slalom title since Tamara McKinney did so three decades earlier.

Shiffrin has been drawn to the classic form of competitive skiing rather than the freestyle events that have lured so many other 21st century athletes.

"When I was 15 I did a lot of free skiing and I actually didn't like it," Shiffrin has said. "I thought it was a waste of time and I would rather be training."

That training has made her, at a very young age, a dominant slalom skier. Her recent back-to-back victories on the World Cup circuit make her the favorite going into the race for the Olympic slalom gold medal, which will be awarded Friday, Feb. 21.

A victory in Sochi would likely lift her beyond the status of an Olympian to that of a national heroine.

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