Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, 'in good spirits'
SOELDEN, Austria -- Mikaela Shiffrin won all the big titles in slalom last season. Now, the American teenager appears poised to leave her mark in giant slalom, too.
The 18-year-old Shiffrin has been beating some of her male teammates in training ahead of the Olympic season kickoff Saturday, the World Cup giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier.
"Yeah, but that's training," U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "She had an incredible preparation, is skiing really well. Everything went well. The equipment works, she's in good spirits and she's skiing well. So she's ready, but you can't compare it with guys."
Last season, Shiffrin won both the slalom race at the world championships in Schladming and the season-long World Cup slalom title with three victories on the circuit, including one in the final race of the season to secure the crystal globe by a slim margin ahead of overall World Cup winner Tina Maze.
Shiffrin's best results in giant slalom were her sixth-place finish at the worlds and an eighth in Semmering last December.
"I'm working hard on my GS and I feel like I've made a lot of improvements, so it's just a matter of racing now," Shiffrin said Thursday.
Shiffrin is again planning to travel the circuit with her mom, Eileen, and physical trainer Brie Pike-Sprenger. Together with Roland Pfeifer, an Austrian who is the head coach of the U.S. technical team, the trio has proven to be a winning formula.
"It worked last year, so why change it?" Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin is a decade younger than most of her established teammates, and having her mom around to cook meals and share downtime between events provides a sense of home in Europe.
"Without having her (mother) around I don't think it would work," Pfeifer said. "It's working great and it's getting better every year -- the whole combination. Let's keep doing it."
With continuity in mind, Shiffrin has decided not to enter the speed events of downhill and super-G until after the Feb. 7-23 Sochi Olympics.
"We're just waiting until I'm ready, until I'm totally good in GS and slalom," Shiffrin said. "And then maybe I'll start to dabble in speed."
Shiffrin spent a few days training speed this summer and her ultimate goal is to become an overall threat like Lindsey Vonn, but she realizes there's no sense risking injury before the Olympics.
"I love speed and I've been training it and I really enjoy it but I do want to make sure that I'm smart about when I start doing it," she said.
Shiffrin was off snow from mid-May till the end of July, a period when she focused purely on conditioning
"It paid off," Pfeifer said. "She looks good."
Pfeifer, however, didn't want to discuss which male skiers Shiffrin was beating.
"You know that's a little bit (misleading), people talking too much," he said. "She is doing a great job but I'm not able to tell what this is going to be. But for sure we are really looking for a podium. That's (what) she's here for.
"The last 14 days we did approximately eight days of training and it was all about GS," Pfeifer added. "It was really good. She found a good setup and just can't wait to start."
And while Vonn has returned to the U.S. to continue training before returning from right knee surgery, Shiffrin isn't the only American who is a threat Saturday.
Julia Mancuso won the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Olympics and she put in more training time than anyone else during a preseason camp in New Zealand.
"She pretty much stayed the whole of August there," Hoedlmoser said. "She was really trying to dial in the equipment. I think we found a pretty good setup for her now, with stuff that works. She's been training well. So it could be a pretty good season for her."
Mancuso also won two silvers at the 2010 Vancouver Games and her focus is clearly on the Sochi Games.
"Now," Mancuso said. "I think I'm ready to try and win some more gold."
The other U.S. starter Saturday will be Megan McJames of Park City, Utah, who posted her best career result of 14th in Soelden in 2008.
The U.S. squad decided to keep the injury-prone Resi Stiegler out of the Soelden race, although they do plan to have her race every other giant slalom and slalom this season, starting with the slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16.
"She starts with a very high bib and we all know that Soelden is a very difficult hill," Pfeifer said.