Alpine skiing: Shiffrin ready to lead the new generation

Sat Feb 22, 2014 4:46am EST
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By Martyn Herman

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - With an Olympic gold medal around her neck at the age of 18, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin is pure gold dust for a sport preparing to wave goodbye to a generation of greats.

Under the glare of the floodlights at Rosa Khutor on Friday, the teenager known on the circuit as the "Mozart of Skiing" produced a high-speed waltz through the gates to become the youngest ever Olympic slalom champion.

In facing down some of the world's most experienced slalomists to top the podium, despite a near wipe-out halfway through her second run, the precocious talent from Colorado proved she is a worthy leader of the new generation.

With U.S. ski team glamour girl Lindsey Vonn, who will be 33 at the next Olympics, rehabilitating after knee surgery, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso in the twilight of their glittering careers, and double Olympic champion Ted Ligety peaking, Shiffrin's emergence could not have been better timed.

Her impact will go far beyond the United States though.

Germany's three-times Games gold medalist Maria Hoefl-Riesch has skied her last Olympic run while Austria's Marlies Schild, who has a record 35 World Cup slalom wins, is nearing the end after finishing second behind Shiffrin on Friday.

In the sport's Alps heartland, where top ski racers are revered as A-list celebrities, Shiffrin, along with Swiss Lara Gut and Austria's Anna Fenninger, will help drive the popularity of Alpine skiing in the face of fierce competition from snowboarders and freestylers.

Pretty, articulate and media-savvy, she is the dream ticket for the marketing men who will be forming long queues for her signature over the coming months.   Continued...

First-placed Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. poses with a U.S. flag during the flower ceremony for the women's alpine skiing slalom event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger