KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old defending world champion in slalom, arrived here Friday night, and less than 24 hours later reporters asked her if she could rescue the struggling U.S. ski team.
Shiffrin did not flinch. She smiled.
“I’m not thinking about it that way,” Shiffrin answered coolly. “I’m going to do the best in my events, and if that means I up the medal count then that’s great because I’m here to ski for the U.S. But I’m not the only one.”
Whether or not she inspires the team, Shiffrin certainly has impressed the world in her short but spectacular career.
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This poised product of Vail’s slopes burst into view during one remarkable stretch that spanned the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.
She won her first World Cup slalom in Sweden in December, becoming the second-youngest American to win at that level. Two weeks later, Shiffrin won a Croatian slalom. Eleven days later, there was another victory in Austria.
She has won seven times in three World Cup seasons.
And so Shiffrin will be the center of attention in Tuesday’s giant slalom and the overwhelming favorite in the slalom, an event in which she is both the current world champion and World Cup winner.
Shiffrin said she thinks the Americans’ troubles here might be the result of something much more practical — slow starts.
“There’s normally a five-second window at the start, and depending on what you do with it, those five seconds can be the difference between a gold medal and 10th place,” she said. “But there’s a lesson to be learned. No matter how good you are, you can’t take your foot off the gas. We are all here to ski. We are all here to inspire the world. And that’s what I intend to do.”
Shiffrin spent roughly the past two weeks training in Central Europe. The snow there, she said, was mostly wet and soft, similar to what she will most likely encounter at the Rosa Khutor Alpine complex.
Shiffrin also has experience on the slalom hill here, because Americans skied for about a week on the Rosa Khutor racecourses after last year’s world championships.
“I like the hill,” Shiffrin said. “It has pretty much everything you would want in a racecourse.”