Get ready for the spotlight, Mikaela Shiffrin.
With Lindsey Vonn officially out of the Sochi Winter Olympics, all eyes are about to turn to her Alpine teammate, the precocious 18-year-old from Vonn's hometown of Vail, Colo. Everyone will be watching to see if Shiffrin is ready to seize the day under Olympic-sized pressure and follow in Vonn's illustrious footsteps.
Shiffrin, who considers Vonn to be one of her idols, tweeted about her disappointment that Vonn wouldn't be able to be at the Olympics this year:
But Vonn's absence will undoubtedly lead to a lot more coverage of Shiffrin, who was already poised to be one of the breakthrough stars of Sochi after her second World Cup slalom victory of the season on Jan. 5. Now, she is seen as the obvious heir to Vonn's it-girl throne.
There are some striking similarities. Like Vonn, Mikaela got into skiing because her family was into it. Her mother, Eileen Shiffrin, who travels with her, was coaching ski racing when she was pregnant with Mikaela. Her father was a ski racer in college, as was her older brother Jeff.
Mikaela was a happy little kid at 7 years old, but from the beginning, she was very determined to ski clean arcs in the snow...A lot of kids are in the race program to be with their friends or because their parents want them to do it. Not Mikaela. She had her own motivation and she was focused on making perfect turns, one after another.
Shiffrin really gained attention when she went to Italy when she was only 14 for what was universally considered the world championships for 13- and-14 year-olds and won the slalom race by over three seconds. Since Vonn had been the first American female to win that title, the comparisons began immediately.
After that victory, Shiffrin continued to take the racing world by storm like Vonn had done, although most considered her even more of a prodigy. Shiffrin became the first American to capture two World Cup races before the age of 18, while it took Vonn until the age of 20 to win her first one.
Also, Vonn didn't medal when she made her Olympic debut in 2002 at 17 years old, and she wasn't even expected to. Meanwhile, Shiffrin is the favorite for gold in the slalom, and it would be a surprise if she didn't medal in the giant slalom as well.
While Vonn's strengths are the speed races like downhill and Super-G, Shiffrin excels at the technical races of slalom and giant slalom right now.
But Vonn is one of the most decorated racers in the history of skiing, and so the comparisons are legitimate. With the public—and NBC—hungry for a female skiing star to carry the Olympics, the amount of attention Shiffrin is going to receive during Sochi will be unlike anything she's ever experienced.
Shiffrin isn't getting caught up in the hype, though. She looked up to Vonn when she was growing up in the same way that Vonn admired Picabo Street, and she told the Today Show that the comparisons to Vonn are a bit premature.
[Vonn has] been one of my greatest idols for really long time, and it’s even cooler that she’s one of my teammates...I appreciate who she is and what she’s done for the sport. But she’s not done—she’s not even really close to done.
Shiffrin might not be buying into the "next Lindsey Vonn" angle that we're all trying to force on her, but that's OK. Being the first Mikaela Shiffrin might just be good enough.
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