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Mikaela Shiffrin closes in on ski racing milestones

Mikaela Shiffrin reacts at finish line after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Semmering, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Giovanni Auletta / Associated Press)
Mikaela Shiffrin reacts at finish line after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Semmering, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Giovanni Auletta / Associated Press)
By Eric Willemsen Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia – If Mikaela Shiffrin wins her 27th World Cup race in Tuesday’s slalom, she will match the career achievement of one of the biggest names in American ski racing history – Phil Mahre.

She would also match the women’s record of eight consecutive World Cup slaloms wins – and draw level with Swedish skiing great Ingemar Stenmark for the number of victories before turning 22 years old.

Not bad for someone who isn’t interested in records.

“She doesn’t pay attention to the records,” Shiffrin’s head coach Mike Day told the Associated Press on Monday. “I am a huge ski racing fan, but I am not a great historian so I don’t pay attention to the records, either. We are solely focused on her performance.”

Mahre was a three-time overall men’s World Cup champion in the early 1980s, crowning his illustrious career with a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic slalom in Sarajevo.

Shiffrin, who became an Olympic slalom champion in 2014, would join Mahre in third place among American skiers with the most World Cup wins with another triumph Tuesday on the Sljeme hill outside Croatia’s capital, trailing only Bode Miller (33) and Lindsey Vonn (76).

But it’s not a subject that Shiffrin wants to talk about.

“I am just a 21-year-old girl. Everybody has to stop telling me those things. I am just trying to ski,” she told an Austrian TV reporter who asked her about breaking records last week after the American won three races in three days in Semmering.

Day, who took over from Brandon Dyksterhouse as her head coach in the summer, has been as impressed with the way Shiffrin has handled the pressure – as he has with her racing.

“No matter the event, people think she is going to win races every time she appears at the start,” he said. “She has recently been able to manage these expectations effectively and she is focused more on the performance than on the outcome.”

Day previously worked with the U.S. men’s ski team, coaching Ted Ligety to four world titles and two World Cup giant slalom globes.

But he downplayed his contribution to Shiffrin’s improvement in the discipline, which was underlined by her back-to-back GS wins last week.

“The adjustments I made to her skiing have not been incredibly difficult because, fundamentally, she is such a strong skier,” Day said. “Truthfully, her pace in training is still higher than what we saw in Semmering.”

Her dominance in slalom and progress in GS have given Shiffrin a 215-point overall World Cup lead over defending champion Lara Gut. As the Swiss skier doesn’t race slaloms, the gap is likely to become even bigger with three slaloms and a GS coming up in the next eight days.

Still, Shiffrin’s team won’t make winning the overall title its main target for the season.

“I think everybody else is more excited about the potential of her competing for the overall than she is,” Day said. “Yes, it could look extremely favorable and it is impossible to ignore. I won’t say we are ignoring it, but we are still managing toward her goals for the season. We are not going to chase around speed races just to stay in contention.”

Even so, the career milestones will just keep coming if she wins in Croatia.

Stenmark celebrated 27 of his record 86 career wins before he turned 22 in March 1978, while only two other women have won eight slaloms in a row – Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1988-89 and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2000-01.

In fact, Shiffrin has won the last 12 slaloms she competed in, but missed five races due to a knee injury last season. The last slalom she took part in but failed to win was a night race at Flachau, Austria in January 2015.

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