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February 22. 2014 9:31PM

Shiffrin dreams big for 2018


Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) speaks at a press conference for the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

SOCHI, Russia - They're already looking to teenager Mikaela Shiffrin as America's next big Winter Olympian.

Half a day after she became the youngest woman to win a slalom gold medal, some suggested the Sochi Games will launch Shiffrin into the celebrity stratosphere populated by such luminaries as Apolo Ohno and Lindsey Vonn.

Shiffrin, 18, who lived with her parents in Lyme, N.H., from 2003-2008, perhaps inadvertently fed the hype machine Saturday, saying she wants five gold medals at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 in South Korea.

"Sorry, I just admitted that to you all," she said.

Put the statement into context, however, and it's just Shiffrin dreaming large.

"I want to branch out but I don't want to do it too soon," she said of her future. "I have strength to gain over the next two summers. I don't want to push myself too far, too fast, and definitely don't get greedy."

Shiffrin has all the markings of a big-time Olympic star. Now living in Colorado, she already is being compared to another Colorado kid - swimmer Missy Franklin.

The two recently talked via Twitter. The accomplished Franklin offered support to Shiffrin in her Olympic debut.

"They were saying I am the Missy Franklin on skis," Shiffrin said. "That's a tough thing to live up to. She just went out and did it. I didn't know if I can really do that."

She knew. Trust us, she knew.

Shiffrin, of Vail, Colo., took a commanding lead halfway through the two-run slalom, then recovered from a mistake on the second run to win the gold medal over idol Marlies Schild of Austria. Another Austrian, Kathrin Zettel, won the bronze.

This is what Shiffrin knew before shooting out of the starting gate Friday at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in the mountains above Sochi.

She already visualized what winning a gold medal would look like.

"I can win every World Cup but come to the Olympics and not do well," she said.

Shiffrin studied how Squaw Valley's Julia Mancuso has been able to ski fast when it counts, becoming the most decorated American female Olympic skier.

Shiffrin wrote it down: It's OK to be confident. It's OK to go into the press conference and say she wanted two medals.

"I don't think it's jinxing it, it's not arrogant," Shiffrin said. "It's just the fact: I think I can."

This epiphany came inside an airplane headed to Sochi.

Shiffrin was in a dreamy state after the long charter flight. She suddenly awoke, started writing down her thoughts on an iPad.

A flight attendant demanded she turn off the device because the plane was about to land.

"You don't understand: this is the medal," Shiffrin replied. "You need to let me write this."

The kid didn't have the iPad with her Saturday. But here is a summation of what she wrote:

"Miracles aren't random. The Olympics is a lot about the upsets. That is what inspires people because it feels like a miracle. For the crowd, miracles give them hope that something can happen to them."

Said Shiffrin: "I wanted to prove miracles aren't random, that you can create your destiny. So I wanted to come here and create my own miracle."

Like Franklin, Shiffrin is media savvy. But she also might be ready for an international posting with the U.S. State Department.
 
 
In a statement sure to please the host country, the teenager credited part of her inspiration to Adelina Sotnikova of Russia, who rocked the Sochi Games by defeating defending champion Yuna Kim in women's individual figure skating.
 
 
"If I could break off part of my medal I would do it and give it to her," Shiffrin said. "The way she just flowed across the ice, the grace and the beauty, it really inspired me."

Now it is Shiffrin's turn to inspire. She has been a ski prodigy almost since she started at age 5.

Shiffrin understands the road ahead could be filled with mogul-sized bumps. She's ready for whatever the world has to give, including the failures.

"When I'm done I hope I can look back and say I changed this sport," Shiffrin said. "That I was innovative and created a new way of skiing and pushed women's skiing to be faster and more athletic and more exciting for people to watch."

She made it way more dramatic than she had hoped Friday night when the second run didn't go as planned.

But once the kid saw she had the gold medal secured, Shiffrin didn't want to stop.

She skied around the finish line, an inward celebration to grasp the enormity of the moment.

Keep moving, she told herself.

"I felt so free," Shiffrin explained. "Free to make mistakes, free to recover from them."


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