FLACHAU, Austria — In her first full World Cup season, American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin can already match a record set by skiing great Annemarie Moser-Proell.
If Shiffrin wins for the third time this season in tonight’s slalom in Flachau, she will be exactly the same age – 17 years, 308 days – that Moser-Proell was when the Austrian earned her third career slalom victory in 1971.
Shiffrin obviously will need more time to beat Moser-Proell’s career record of 62 World Cup wins, but the American is drawing praise from coaches and skiers.
“She is way ahead of her age,” Austria’s technical head coach Guenter Obkircher said. “She races fast and has a very solid technique. And she has this youthful carefreeness. In Austria, we don’t have such a racer of the same age.”
Shiffrin, of Vail, Colo., and is the first American to win two World Cup races before turning 18. She will wear the red bib as leader of the slalom standings for the second time this season. She will open the race after drawing start No. 1 in Monday night’s ceremony.
Shiffrin’s first victory came in Are, Sweden, in December, sending her to the top of the slalom standings. She then struggled with the pressure and failed to finish her next race in Semmering in the last event of 2012.
“It was a new situation for her,” U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “But she has a very fast learning curve and I think that shouldn’t be a problem for her tomorrow. She is superfast in training.”
Shiffrin bounced back a week later by winning a race in Zagreb, Croatia, to reclaim top spot in the standings.
She shared the podium with third-place Erin Mielzynski, a Canadian slalom specialist who won her first World Cup race in March 2012. Mielzynski has followed Shiffrin since the American joined the circuit and isn’t surprised by her rise
“Mikaela is such a solid skier,” Mielzynski said. “She creates power but she stays strong over her skis. She doesn’t get in trouble, and if she does, she can get herself out of it. It’s amazing to watch her.”
Mielzynski said it’s not just Shiffrin’s skiing technique that separates her from other talented young racers.
“It’s special that she can let things go when they might be bothering her,” the Canadian said. “That’s a special mindset.”
World giant slalom champion Ted Ligety also has been impressed with Shiffrin’s maturity as a ski racer.
“She is a solid skier for sure,” Ligety said. “She has been so good the last few races and last year, too. She doesn’t seem like a 17-year-old when she’s on the hill.”
After winning in Zagreb, Shiffrin’s earnings this season increased to $117,500. If she wins Flachau – the race with the most prize money on the women’s World Cup circuit – she will make another $58,000.
Hoedlmoser says the success, praise and money haven’t changed anything.
“She is still a very hard worker, goes out to try to get better and better every day,” Hoedlmoser said. “We just stay focused on training, we do the same thing. ... She gets plenty of good training sessions in and we just continue on working in the direction we have been working.”
This season’s first five regular slaloms and the Munich city event, which counted toward the discipline standings, had four different winners, with Shiffrin and Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia each winning twice. Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Austria’s Kathrin Zettel won the other two races.
Shiffrin leads the standings with 336 points, followed by overall World Cup leader Tina Maze with 310 and Velez Zuzulova with 305.
After Flachau, there are three more World Cup slaloms, though only one before this month’s world championships in Maribor, Slovenia.
Shiffrin says winning the discipline title is one of her main goals. But her class is not restricted to the slopes.
Days after last week’s Zagreb slalom, organizers received a note in which they were thanked for “a night I will never forget. ... The race was run perfectly from the beginning to end. ... Everything was first class and I want to extend my appreciation of all your hard work. I know what an enormous undertaking these races are.”
It was signed by Shiffrin.