US teen Shiffrin making WCup breakthrough with win
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By ERIC WILLEMSEN
ZAGREB, Croatia -- American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin is having a breakthrough World Cup season on the slopes.
She's the first American to win two World Cup races before turning 18. The 17-year-old Shiffrin captured her second career World Cup victory at Friday's night slalom, sending her to the top of the slalom standings.
"I am just trying to find the edge of what I can ski," Shiffrin told The Associated Press. "I am having a very good year. I am very excited about it and I am always hungry for more. ... I am really happy and I know anything can happen."
Voted World Cup rookie of the year last season by her peers, Shiffrin has lived up to expectations. In 12 races so far, she won twice and recorded six more top-10 finishes.
She's also ahead of Lindsey Vonn as the top American in the overall standings -- although Vonn just returned to training after a monthlong break to recover from an intestinal illness.
Along with the victories have come the limelight -- and the prize money -- but Shiffrin is determined to not let it get to her head. The victory in Zagreb increased Shiffrin's earnings to fifth on the season's money ranking list with $117,500.
"I am still going to do the same thing," said Shiffrin, who was born in the ski area of Vail, Colo. "I have to remember that I am only 17 and I feel like a baby sometimes and I don't hide that."
She travels the circuit accompanied by her mother Eileen -- "my biggest help, she keeps me grounded and focused."
"I have always wanted to sleep really deeply and not really worry," Shiffrin said. "I know that some things are going to work and turn out fine. It's not the end of the world."
The same approach has helped her to keep a positive mind on the slopes.
Just a week after earning her first World Cup victory in Are, Sweden, and going top of the slalom standings, all eyes were on Shiffrin at a night event in Semmering, Austria, the last race of 2012.
She was fourth after the opening leg but failed to finish after straddling a gate early in her final run.
"A lot of times there is pressure. In Semmering I didn't deal with it very well," she said. "I think it was good to go out in Semmering, it brought me back down to earth. ... There is always a next race coming up very soon. I know I will have some mistakes and some bad races but in general every experience counts."
World champion Marlies Schild has dominated women's slalom for many years. But the Austrian is out for the season after knee surgery.
After six races -- including the Munich city event on New Year's Day that counted as a slalom -- Shiffrin has 336 points, followed by overall World Cup leader Tina Maze of Slovenia with 310 and Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia with 305.
"It's still so far away, there is still a couple of races and a lot more training days," Shiffrin said. "I just have to stay in the moment because that's what's working so far and what keeps me grounded. It's definitely one of my goals but it will be difficult to hold on to this bib."
U.S. women's technical coach Roland Pfeifer has been impressed with Shiffrin's improvement in her second year at top-level racing.
"She is progressing rapidly," said Pfeifer, who is looking forward to see what Shiffrin can do at next month's world championships. I'd say it's really promising on the way to Schladming."
Apart from peaking in slalom, Shiffrin has racked up three top-10 finishes in giant slalom this season. And it's just a matter of time before she will start entering the speed events -- super-Gs and downhills.
"I am definitely going to move into speed, I love it," Shiffrin said. "I trained a little bit of speed this past summer, it's so fun and I feel really good on the long boards. But I am trying to be just patient. I am going to take it slow. When I feel like my technique is really dialed in and I am comfortable going fast, I will go fast."
U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser had no doubts about her future as an all-round contender.
"Mikaela has a lot of potential, but we're not rushing," Hoedlmoser said. "It's not just that's she has loads of talent, she also likes to work hard and she definitely shows the right attitude."
Shiffrin probably won't try her luck in speed racing until she knows she can match the best. Even at 17, it's already all about winning.
"I have always dreamed about being on the top spot," Shiffrin said. "In whatever race I was in, I wanted to win and to be really competitive. Being in the World Cup is no different. I still want to win everything."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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