Alpine Skiing

Chris Iorfida - Thursday Feb. 20, 2014 20:26 ET

Teen Mikaela Shiffrin hopes to become U.S. golden girl in slalom

18-year-old favoured to win Olympic race

Mikaela Shiffrin is the reigning World Cup champion in the women's slalom. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Mikaela Shiffrin can make a great first Olympic slalom impression in the last alpine event for the women at the Sochi Olympics on Friday.

The Vail, Colo., teen made her Olympic debut earlier in the week, but this will be her first time dealing with the pressure of being the favourite heading into a Winter Games race.

Shiffrin won the World Cup title last season as a 17-year-old, while also winning the world championship race in the discipline at Schladming, Austria.

She’s showed the competitive fire to not take her success for granted this season, with three wins and a silver in the first five slalom races. In the sixth slalom, just before Sochi, she was leading after the first run but caught a rut in the second to slip out of podium position.

Shiffrin has had more of the media spotlight thrust upon her since the injury that put U.S. star Lindsey Vonn out of the Olympics. The precocious talent was one of the athletes chosen for the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview issue, and was the subject of a massive profile last month in the New York Times Magazine.

The American is coming off a fifth-place showing in dismal conditions in the giant slalom earlier this week, a discipline she’s just added to her plate this season.

Shiffrin has the exacting standards of a champion, if not the lengthy body of work just yet.

“Next Olympics I go to, I'm sure as heck not getting fifth,” she said after her debut.

The U.S. team won’t match the eight alpine medals it won at the last Olympics. But Shiffrin can help the group finish on a high note and equal the two gold medals won at those Vancouver Games, following up on Ted Ligety’s fairly easy giant slalom win Wednesday.

The gold will go to the skier with the fastest combined time over two runs. The second run takes place at night, under the lights.

Canadian contenders

Marie-Michèle Gagnon came to Sochi hoping to contend in multiple events after a string of top-10 results this season, including a super-combined win in early January.

It would be more accurate at this point to say that the Lac-Etchemin, Que., native is just looking to salvage her Olympic experience with a positive result, let alone thinking about a podium.

Gagnon dislocated her shoulder on a spill in her first race in Sochi, and also failed to finish in the super-G and giant slalom. While it was a gutsy display to not miss any starts, in retrospect she might have been better served recuperating and preparing for the slalom, her best discipline.

She admitted to The Canadian Press that she’d be consulting with Alpine Canada’s sports psychologist after the beating her confidence has taken with the three DNF’s so far in Sochi.

Erin Mielzynski of Guelph, Ont., will also be in the starting gate for Canada. Mielzynski struggled all season but she was a respectable 21st this week in the GS, a discipline she's only started competing in regularly this season.

Mielzynski now moves to the slalom, in which she has two career World Cup podium results. That includes a gold-medal effort in early 2012, the first slalom win on the circuit by a Canadian woman in 41 years.

Brittany Phelan of Ste. Agathe des Monts, Que., and Elli Terwiel of Sun Peaks, B.C., will also compete for Canada. Both are making their Olympic debut in Sochi.

International contenders

Tina Maze will be back after becoming the first woman since Marie-Theres Nadig of Switzerland at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics to win gold in the downhill and giant slalom. The Slovenia also had top-10 results in the Sochi super-G and super-combined.

Maze has a conceivable shot of joining Janica Kostelic (2002) and Jean-Claude Killy (1968) as the only alpine skiers to win three gold medals at a single Games, but just three of her 25 World Cup victories have come in the slalom, and none this season.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany goes for a third Sochi medal after skipping the giant slalom due to a sore throat. She was the World Cup slalom champion for two straight years beginning in 2009.

Marlies Schild, at nearly 33 years of age, could be looking at her last chance at Olympic gold, after earning two silver and a bronze in Turin and Vancouver. She has racked up 35 World Cup slalom wins and is on pace to finish in the top three in the discipline season standings for the 10th time.

Austria can only enter four skiers per Olympic rules, meaning it will be a difficult choice between capable slalomers Nicole Hosp, Kathrin Zettel, Michaela Kirchgasser and Bernadette Schild, who’s nine years younger than her sister.

Swedish skiers have earned 10 World Cup podium results this season, but Frida Hansdotter and Maria Pietilä Holmner have only one race left to get their team a first Sochi medal.

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