BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - With Lindsey Vonn having left the world championships with a solitary bronze medal, U.S. fans will be banking on Mikaela Shiffrin to deliver gold as hot favourite for the women’s slalom on Saturday.
After 10 days of competition at Beaver Creek, the American ski team has collected just three medals with Travis Ganong earning a surprise silver in the men’s downhill and Ted Ligety pocketing bronze in the super combined.
Crowd favorite Vonn had been expected to shine in her specialist speed events but was never at her best as she settled for what she described as a disappointing third place in the Super-G before finishing fifth in the downhill.
As reigning world and Olympic slalom champion, American darling Shiffrin will carry her country’s hopes into the final women’s event at the 2015 world championships, and she embraces the weight of expectation.
“I feel really well prepared,” said the 19-year-old, who took eighth place on Thursday in the giant slalom, her second-best discipline.
“I am in a position where I could feel a lot of pressure but it’s the exact position I want to be in. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and that takes the pressure off.”
Two years ago, Shiffrin made a huge splash as an underdog when clinched the slalom crown at the world championships in Schladming before going on to become the youngest Olympic champion in that discipline at the 2014 Sochi Games.
”I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race going into the slalom in Schladming,“ said the American. ”Somehow I got through there. I was really lucky in that race.
“This time I feel like I‘m very well prepared. I‘m a little bit more of a weathered ski racer, I have a little bit more experience under my belt.”
Other leading contenders on Saturday include Austrian Michaela Kirchgasser, who took silver in the slalom at the 2013 world championships, and Slovenian Tina Maze, who has already won two golds and a silver in the Vail Valley.
Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter is also likely to shine, having finished on the podium in four of six races this season to lead the slalom World Cup standings.
The 29-year-old took slalom bronze at the 2013 worlds and will be bidding to become the third Swedish women to win the event, after Anja Paerson in 2001 and Pernilla Wiberg in 1996.
Editing by Gene Cherry