Mikaela Shiffrin defends World Cup title
Mikaela Shiffrin stepped into the starting gate, just as she had hundreds of times before. The afternoon sun was low on the horizon and peeking through the clouds, a few rays painting the top of the course in Are, Sweden. She tapped her poles and planted them firmly in front of the start wand. Below her lay 66 slalom gates set by her U.S. Ski Team coach Roland Pfeiffer.
The scoreboard told the story. Sweden Sweden Sweden. More importantly, .66 seconds separated Shiffrin from third-place Frida Hansdotter after the first run, the one challenger in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom standings who had a chance of catching the 18-year-old Shiffrin.
Somewhere in the far reaches of her mind was that day just before Christmas a year ago. In that same start house, Mikaela Shiffrin punched out to take her first World Cup win. Now, less than 15 months later, she was going for win number eight a nice accompaniment to her World Championship and Olympic gold medals. Not bad for a young girl who turns 19 this week.
Are holds special memories for Shiffrin. After her win in December 2012 at the Swedish resort, a mom came up to her and asked if her daughter could have her photo taken. The little girl had leukemia.
"I just kept thinking about that, like she was a little lucky charm for me," said Shiffrin last weekend. "It just seemed like my first win — it was such a great day for me — and here’s this girl and all she wants is a picture. It put everything in perspective.
"Since then I’ve carried that same motto, that I can win Olympics — that is all great — but I have to be grateful for everything I have."
Shiffrin tucked those memories away as the attacked the slalom course with her usual vigor. She had a job to do — a job she does pretty well. A ski racer doesn’t do the math in the starting gate, but with Hansdotter in third, a second or better would clinch the crystal globe a week before the Finals in Lenzerheide.
It was green all the way down, across the finish line. It took a few seconds, but soon the smile under her Barilla helmet went ear-to-ear as her Swedish colleagues came out to hug the World Cup champion.
A few weeks earlier Shiffrin talked about her Olympic gold. "Miracles aren’t random," she exclaimed matter-of-factly. Mikaela Shiffrin is making her miracles a reality.
"I just go day by day and hope I can do a good job," said her ever-humble coach Roland Pfeiffer. "It makes me a little bit proud."
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