US teen Shiffrin ready for Olympic skiing debut

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U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin attends a U.S. ski team press conference at the Gorki media centre at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Shiffrin, an 18-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colo., will be favored to win the gold medal in the women’s slalom at the Sochi Olympics next week. She’s also a contender for a medal in the giant slalom. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — So far, slalom world champion Mikaela Shiffrin has been watching the Sochi Olympics on TV from afar.

Now she's in town and eager to head down a ski slope herself.

The 18-year-old American will make her Olympic debut in Tuesday's giant slalom. Her best event, the slalom, is Friday.

The youngest women's slalom champion in Winter Games history was Italy's Paoletta Magoni, who was 19 at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

"There will definitely be more nerves, because this means something to the rest of the world, so that also makes it mean something more to me," Shiffrin said Saturday, a day after arriving in Russia. "When I'm in the starting gate, I'm expecting to feel jitters, because I'm about to leap out of the start and go as fast as I can, trying to hit ... plastic gates. And who wouldn't get nervous doing that?"

Shiffrin considers it "a really enthusiastic nervousness" that she can "channel" into good skiing.

She's been training in Italy, Germany and Austria the past couple of weeks, on snow that "ended up being really rutted," which she thinks means it'll be similar to the soft conditions on the Rosa Khutor course.

"So it's perfect to get to train on that," she said.

Shiffrin won last season's World Cup slalom title, and she's on pace to repeat, with victories in three of this season's six races.

She also has a couple of podium appearances in giant slalom, and made clear Saturday she is not aiming for success only in her specialty.

"I'm really looking forward to the GS race, not just the slalom," Shiffrin said. "I'm going for a medal in two events."

In five Alpine events through Saturday, the Americans had managed a total of one medal, Julia Mancuso's bronze in the super-combined.

Shiffrin noticed, of course, and she was asked Saturday about the step back so far, four years after the U.S. ski team won eight Alpine medals across the 10 races.

"It's just been interesting for me to see, because it's a learning lesson that no matter how good you are," she said, "you cannot take your foot off the gas."


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