With the news that Lindsey Vonn, the most famous American skier and arguably the U.S.'s best-known winter Olympic athlete, will miss this year's Olympic Games, there's a star-power vacuum at the top. Sure, there's snowboarder Shaun White, and Vonn's fellow skier Ted Ligety, but most of the U.S. team isn't as well known.
Mikaela Shiffrin, one of Vonn's fellow skiers, is about to get her turn in the spotlight. She's only 18, but she's the current slalom World Cup champion. Shiffrin's skill is in the technical aspects of skiing, having won two of four World Cup slaloms this season already. Shiffrin is already targeted as a potential medalist in both slalom and giant slalom.
She can fight through adversity; as recently as last Saturday, she won a slalom event in Bormio, Italy, while skiing through rain and poor course conditions. The race had to be moved from Zagreb, Croatia because weather conditions were so poor. The fact that Shiffrin was able to flourish given such drastic shifts bodes well for her future, given that Olympic skiers must deal with an entirely new level of attention and, in some cases, adversity.
"I never wanted to be a racer who could only win on hard snow or just soft snow, or just a steep pitch or just a flat," Shiffrin said after the win. "I want to be really good in all-around conditions and getting a win [Saturday] has given me a lot of confidence that I can ski out of ruts in the second run."
Of note: Shiffrin's key rival, Marlies Schild of Austria, will pose a significant challenge in Sochi. Schild won the other two slaloms that Shiffrin did not, and at age 32 and recovering from two knee surgeries, completes the other half of the youth-versus-experience battle. That showdown should make for one of Sochi's more compelling stories.
Just don't call Shiffrin the "next Lindsey Vonn." "When they say I’m the next Lindsey Vonn, they are shooing her out the door, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Shiffrin told Today.com in December. "Imagine being her, reading that someone is the next Lindsey Vonn — it’s like saying, 'Get out of the way, there’s no room for two Lindsey Vonns.'"
Maybe not. But in Sochi, Shiffrin will have the whole stage to herself.