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Olympics / Sports

Mikaela Shiffren looks to become youngest to win gold in giant slalom

SOCHI, Russia--The thought was Mikaela Shiffrin would get her Olympic feet wet in Tuesday's giant slalom and then be ready for Friday's much-anticipated slalom.

It turned out Shiffrin got soaked, head to toe, on a nasty day when racers needed windshield wipers for their goggles.

Shiffrin, only 18, is already special in that she refuses to blame weather for her performances, accepting that ski racing is an outdoor sport.

Asked about the rain after her first run, Shiffrin said she didn't notice it.

Teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, skidded out early on her first run and admitted later, "I couldn't see much."

U.S. teammate Resi Stiegler said she had to wipe rain from her goggles twice during the run.

Shiffrin said she thought it was a "spectacular day" and added, "I actually didn't have a problem with visibility and I felt the conditions were really good for how much it's precipitating."

The GS is not Shiffrin's best event, but she still finished a respectable fifth, one spot higher than her World Cup GS ranking. She lost her medal chance to three Olympic champions.

"I think she did quite well," Stiegler said of Shiffrin's debut. "It's her first Olympics and she has a lot of pressure on herself, and anything can happen at the Olympics. She should be happy with how she did."

As much as she wanted to medal, and thought she could medal, Shiffrin's GS was more a test-run for Friday's slalom.

In three days, Shiffrin went from the hunter to the hunted.

She is already the best female slalom skier in the world, with seven World Cup wins and a world championship to prove it.

Because she is so young, Shiffrin does not face the same pressure that squeezed defending world GS champion Ted Ligety, who is 29 and needed Wednesday's win to ratify his greatness.

Shiffrin probably has four more Olympic tries to do that, but she is still feeling some heat.

"It takes a lot of work to get to this point," she said. "When it comes down to race day, and it's just that one race, and you're nervous, and you can't shake it out of your legs in time, it's different. It's that specific, you really have to be in the game."

The women's slalom at Rosa Khutor is brimming with angles.

Shiffrin can become the youngest racer, male or female, to win the Olympic slalom. Italy's Paoletta Magoni-Sforza was 19 when she won the women's slalom at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

On the other end of the Olympic calendar is Austria's Marlies Schild, who at 32 can become the oldest woman to win slalom.

Schild seeks to become the first racer to win a slalom medal in three straight Olympics. She's hoping to add gold to her 2006 bronze and 2010 silver.

Shiffrin won her first World Cup slalom in Are, Sweden, in 2012. Schild, the 2009 slalom world champion, tore knee ligaments in that race and is just now returning to form. She returned this year to win her record 35th World Cup in Linz, Austria.

Also trying to deny Shiffrin will be Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the defending Olympic slalom champion from Germany.

Hoefl-Riesch has already won the Sochi super combined, her third career Olympic gold. A fourth gold would tie her for first on the all-time Olympic Alpine list with Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Croatia's Janica Kostelic.

Hoefl-Riesch missed Tuesday's GS with a sore throat but is expected to be ready for Friday's two-run night race.

Slovenia's Tina Maze is also entered and will be chasing her third gold in Sochi after winning the downhill and GS. Maze ranks 14th in the World Cup slalom rankings but has won events in the past.

Maze said she hasn't been as focused on World Cup results this year.

"The season's plan was to show my best here," she said. "My focus in training was on this Olympic Games."

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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