(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)
The Olympics lost a bit of its glamor early this month when four-time world champ Lindsey Vonn withdrew due to of a knee injury. So much for seeing Tiger Woods on the slopes, rooting on his girlfriend. But Shiffrin, an 18-year-old ski prodigy, is a clear favorite for gold in slalom and seems ready to assume the crown as the new queen of U.S. Alpine racing.
Shiffrin, a native of Vail., Colo., is the reigning world champion in women's slalom. In the last year, she has won six World Cup slalom races. She was the second-youngest American to win an Alpine event in the World Cup and is the first U.S. skier to win three or more slaloms in a Cup season twice. She's been improving rapidly in giant slalom, and is a solid contender for a medal in that event.
At 5-7, 145 pounds, Shiffrin isn't a physical specimen. She isn't considered a particularly aggressive or dynamic skier. All she does is go faster than anyone else. People call her the Mozart of ski racing. She won her first international event at 15, shortly after becoming eligible. She won her first U.S. slalom title a few weeks after her 16th birthday.
''It's about the purity and serenity of her form,'' U.S. star Ted Ligety told the New York Times. ''At top speed on an icy, steep racecourse, the hardest thing in the world is making it look effortless. Mikaela does that.''