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Mikaela Shiffrin shines in hometown

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- One of Mikaela Shiffrin's goals is to never provide material for authors who write about athletes failing in high-stress situations.

"They always use examples of the champions who choked at some point and didn't perform under pressure," she said. "I read these books and am like, wow, that's harsh. You know, it's not so easy."

She continues to fool the rest of us.

Shiffrin, 19, is now three-for-three in world championship and Olympic slalom races -- the biggest events in ski racing -- after she won her second straight world title Saturday, a few miles from where she lives with her parents. America's once-in-a-generation talent held on to a sizable first-run lead to give the U.S. its second repeat world champion in two days, after Ted Ligety defended his giant slalom title Friday.

Each of the other women on the podium, silver medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden and bronze medalist Sarka Strachova of the Czech Republic, is at least 10 years older than Shiffrin. While they stressed before the second run on another 50-degree day in Colorado's high-altitude sun, Shiffrin napped on a sofa in the lodge then laid down on the snow at the top of the course. During a rollicking press conference after the race, where Shiffrin consistently drew chuckles from the international media, she conceded that she may, in fact, be "half bear."

It wasn't that funny when she fell behind Hansdotter by .04 seconds halfway through her second run, but she blitzed down the final section of the course to win handily, by a margin of .34.

"I set a point in the course where no matter what happened before that, I really had to go for everything," Shiffrin said. "Once I found my rhythm and then just kept going and kept going, it got better and better. ... Everybody I've seen has said, 'You almost killed us down here!' I guess that's the point, to have a good show, right?"

She delivered on that front, just as she has in every big moment during her three-year career on skiing's top level.

Coincidentally, Shiffrin's victory came on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's National Club Day, at a venue just down the road from where she skied for the local club growing up. Perhaps because she is not far removed from her junior career, or perhaps because she exudes maturity, that coincidence was not lost on Shiffrin.

"It's important for these kids in the U.S. to know that it is possible to get here," she said. "It's more possible than you think. Even when you feel distant, you still have to go for it. If this is your dream, then put it out there."

It has not been a seamless season for Shiffrin, despite what her recent results suggest. The two-time defending World Cup slalom champion struggled to crack the top 10 early this winter before the U.S. team reassigned her primary coach, Roland Pfeifer, and essentially borrowed Vail club coach Brandon Dyksterhouse to replace him. Shiffrin's ski serviceman with Atomic also helped her upgrade her boot and ski setups to improve her performance. She entered Saturday's race ranked second in the World Cup slalom standings behind Hansdotter, but Hansdotter seemed to know after settling for silver that Shiffrin is back on top.

"I couldn't ski better today," Hansdotter said. "Mikaela was hard to beat, and I'm happy for her. To do this in her hometown, that must be amazing."

Indeed it was, said Shiffrin, who leaves Sunday to continue her World Cup season in Europe. For months leading up to the race, she refused to admit how important it was to win in front of her hometown fans, consistent with her strategy to treat every event, every turn, the same.

"Now that the race is over and it came out in my favor, I get to admit how much I wanted this race," she said.

"I was so worried that I was going to screw it up," she added at the press conference, answering a question from her mother, Eileen, who travels the World Cup circuit with her and asked what happened when she fell behind in the final run. "I was telling myself that I wasn't feeling pressure and that I'm just going to go out and make my best turns and it's going to be fine. And no matter what happens, it's OK, even if I don't get the gold. It's OK because life goes on. But when I'm in the starting gate, I'm like, God I want this."

As she continues to prove time and again, when she wants something in a ski race, she gets it.