Shiffrin under pressure after stunning ski result

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 10:25 AM

Eric Willemsen

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Mikaela Shiffrin suddenly faces an aspect of skiing altogether new to her -- handling pressure.

The 16-year-old American had a remarkable third-place finish in a World Cup slalom last week. In only her eighth race on the circuit, Shiffrin was even faster than idol and world champion Marlies Schild in winning the second run in Lienz, Austria.

Now comes Tuesday's night slalom on the Sljeme hill, and all the expectations.

"Mikeala has to learn to deal with that," U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said Monday. "I think she is very focused and down to earth and she knows what she's capable of. She should just stay cool and do her thing."

Hoedlmoser has spoken several times with Shiffrin the last few days.

"She should stay focused ... and just ski like a 16-year-old," Hoedlmoser said. "She must now look from one run to the other and not think ahead too much. Just ski up to her ability. If she does that, she can be there again."

The race in Lienz marked only the second time Shiffrin earned World Cup points. The other came when she was eighth in Aspen, Colo., in November.

"We knew that in tough conditions, she can ski very fast as she's very solid in her position on the skis," Hoedlmoser said. "We know she's definitely able to be a top-10 skier already this season. With her confidence now, she just can go out there, ski up to her best and have fun."

Also enjoying the slalom is Shiffrin's teammate Lindsey Vonn, who after years of struggling seems to have gained strength in the technical races as well.

"Normally I am looking forward to the speed races again this time of the year," Vonn said. "But now, I am just really happy to race in slalom. I just feel comfortable in any race right now."

Vonn's last victory in slalom came three years ago in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. She has not had a top-three result in the slalom since Levi, Finland, in November 2009.

"Lindsey knows her slalom is there," Hoedlmoser said. "She's been training well and her mind is fresh."

Teammate Julia Mancuso, who skied out after just a few seconds into her opening run last week, is skipping Tuesday's slalom to prepare for this weekend's speed events in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria.

"Slalom is not her priority," Hoedlmoser said. "If it's too much traveling, she's not going to do them. Zagreb is a little bit out of the way."

Defending overall champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who trails Vonn by 286 points, has een slowed by a cold. On Monday, the German Olympic champion left training early and later skipped the public bib draw in Zagreb's central square.

Schild won on this run last year and has been unbeatable in all four slaloms this season. Another win by the Austrian would put her within two of Swiss great Vreni Schneider's record of 34 slalom victories. Schild also would be closing in on her fiance Benjamin Raich's tally of 35 World Cup victories.

"I hope he will have some wins in the new year so it will be harder for me to overtake him," Schild said.

Raich will attack the same hill during a World Cup slalom Thursday night.

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