SOCHI, Russia – You can see it in the freshness of the 18-year-old American’s face, the gleam in her eye after snaring her first gold medal and the enthusiasm in her voice as she takes every question head on.
It’s undeniable: Mikaela Shiffrin is just getting started.
Becoming the youngest winner of an Olympic slalom isn’t enough for her. One gold medal isn’t enough for her. She doesn’t just want more, she wants them all.
“I don’t want to push myself too far too fast. Definitely don’t get greedy. But at the same time, I’m a dreamer,” Shiffrin said Saturday, about 13 hours after winning the women’s slalom at the Sochi Games.
“Right now, I’m dreaming of the next Olympics (and) winning five gold medals, which sounds really crazy,” she said. “I’m sorry I just admitted that to you all.”
And with that, another first: Shiffrin has never before apologized for dreaming big.
And the dreams don’t come any bigger than those Shiffrin has for her Alpine skiing career. No one has ever swept the five events – slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and super-combined – at the Olympics. She intends to be the first.
She came to Sochi cast as America’s next star after Lindsey Vonn went down with a knee injury. She delivered with the poise, confidence and precociousness that have drawn people to her ever since she hit the World Cup circuit shortly before her 16th birthday.
After finishing fifth in the giant slalom in her Olympic debut, Shiffrin lived up to her billing as the favorite in the slalom. She jumped out to a comfortable lead after her first run, one big enough to help her overcome losing her balance halfway through her second leg.
“Everybody watching, their heart stopped and then it keeps going and they don’t know where you stand and you really hold your breath to the finish and that’s what makes ski racing exciting,” Shiffrin said. “That’s what makes any sport exciting. I do hope that I can inspire people to try to put on a show, for themselves, for the crowd, for anybody. Just ski their best and don’t be afraid to make the mistakes because you learn from them. And they make the sport exciting.”
She recounted her slalom victory while wearing an American flag scarf, perfectly comfortable in front of the cameras and microphones. Perfectly suited to become the next face of American skiing and perhaps the next Winter Games.