Shiffrin is ready for Sochi

Lucas Jackson/REUTERS/Landov

With 10 World Cup podium finishes (and counting), Mikaela Shiffrin wants to add Olympic gold to her collection.

This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!

With 10 World Cup podium finishes (and counting), this 18-year-old American is looking to add Olympic gold to her collection.

Now that I've graduated from high school, I feel like there's been a weight lifted off my shoulders: I don't have to worry about a deadline for schoolwork. I can just worry about the job at hand. I can also really take care of myself in the sense that I'm doing everything, and more, for staying fit for ski racing.

I want to keep my hand in education so I don't forget everything when the time comes to go to college -- I try to study German every day -- but I'm also working on being so present that nothing can get in my head and distract me in skiing.

My speed skiing is my speed skiing [downhill], and my tech skiing is my tech skiing [giant slalom]. They're different events, but the mentality is the same: You have a time block of when you can go out of the gate -- and you really have to charge.

I really feel fortunate to be able to go to Russia at 18 years old because, really, who gets to go to Russia, ever? I'm pretty positive going into this competition.

I'm going into the Olympics with the same mentality as any other race: I just want to win. I'm not putting any less importance on it, but I'm making it less of a Oh my god, if I don't perform on this day in particular, then my life is over.

Going into the world championships last season, I just said, I want to win, but no more than any other race. Then I got there -- and there were so many people -- and I was nervous. I realized it's not a bigger race for the racers, but it is bigger for the world. It's televised on a world stage, and it's Austria, so it was just crazy.

To me, winning the slalom globe [for the World Cup slalom title] was more important [than any one race] because it is a measure of who was consistently fast during the season. To win that means I was on the top step of the podium more than the other girls, which is a nice thing to walk away from.

The city events were really fun last year. It's kind of cool to be able to do your run, then immediately get in a car, or whatever they have. Moscow had an elevator. It's just a really cool atmosphere and it's quick and it keeps your blood flowing. I think it's better for spectators too—to be able to see the whole course and see multiple athletes within two hours.

This would never happen in the U.S., where nobody knows ski racing except for ski racers, but every day in Austria somebody else recognizes me. I'm starting to think if I walk out the door, I need to cover my face with a mask. I do really appreciate the attention, but when I come home from racing, it's like, 'Oh Mikaela, can you just sign this and take a picture? And also my 10 friends over here? And you know we have a party, why don't you come to that?' Uh no. I wanna sleep. Then again, it's a little bit nice to come home and seek refuge and not worry about any craziness that goes on in Europe all winter.

My mom travels with me, so it's like having a piece of home with me. It's really just a matter of finding little routines -- like watching "Glee" with her -- throughout the day that make it a little more like home.

Right now, most ski clubs and most racers who are really young -- 12 to 14 years old -- are doing a ton of speed [events] and they're basically jeopardizing their G.S. and slalom because of it. When you're doing speed, you're not really working on your technique; you're just tucking and trying to go as fast as possible. I always had the mentality that in order to ski speed well, I had to have good technique.

I don't ever want to find myself in a position where I'm making a turn and I don't really know how to pull it off. I want to be able to know that my legs are going to be strong enough, my head is going to be strong enough and my technique is so part of me that I don't even need to think about it.

I don't think it's the right thing to cut off young athletes training in G.S. and slalom and push them into speed because there are so many injuries. You can always learn speed later if you have the good technique, but it's really hard to learn how to ski a fast flush once you haven't skied it in three years.

Honestly I do feel like American media, with the win-lose mentality, sometimes misses the point. Which is not a bad thing, because at least they're interested. But I do want to stress that just being in the top 10 is a pretty big feat, because it's difficult to get in the top 30. So being in the top 10 just means that you have a chance of winning.

I'm not really worried about having a life after ski racing. I know I have a lot of interests and there are so many things that I can do. Right now I'm just focusing on the task at hand.

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