When experts talk about Mikaela Shiffrin they almost always compare her to fellow American skier Lindsey Vonn. While that’s an easy comparison to make, it’s also lazy. Shiffrin is a lot more like American swimmer Missy Franklin, which shouldn’t be surprising since Shiffrin cites Franklin as one of her heroes.
If you haven’t heard of Ms. Shiffrin just wait a week because you won’t be able to get her off your TV screens when women’s alpine skiing at the 2014 Winter Olympics gets into full swing. She is arguably the United States’ best chance for a gold medal, and at just 18 years old, Shiffrin is just getting started.
The native of Vail, Colorado will turn 19 in March, but has already been on the World Cup tour since 2011, when she debuted two days before her 16th birthday. Her rise to prominence has been swift and unprecedented.
A slalom specialist, Shiffrin won the 2013 World Championship in the discipline at Schladming, Austria at just 17, then won the World Cup season championship in the slalom as well.
Since December 20, 2012 she has won seven slalom races in 13 competitions, while finishing second and third in two others. In her short career, Shiffrin has 14 podium finishes (11 in slalom, two in giant slalom, one in parallel slalom).
When skiing experts discuss Shiffrin they use the word “prodigy” a lot, but her personality also makes her a Godsend for a sport in need of an American star. Vonn and fellow American veteran Julia Mancuso have always been a bit intense and at times brusque with the public. Shiffrin, like Missy Franklin, just seems happy to be there and always acts like she’s having a blast. And so far, she’s also seems to have never felt any pressure to perform.
She has a great personality, comes across as sweet, is easy on the eyes and is likely to land a boatload of endorsement deals after the Sochi games are over. Basically, she’s that girl you’re going to have a mildly inappropriate crush on by the time the Closing Ceremony rolls around.
Next week, starting with the giant slalom, Shiffrin will feel more pressure than she ever has, but I don’t expect that to bother her too much. Her career is just starting, and at this rate she could see at least three more Olympics, possibly even four.