Road to Sochi: Skier set to be next Olympic sensation

11:48 PM, Jan 4, 2014   |    comments
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KUSA - The 18-year-old skier who is set to be America's next Olympic skiing sensation calls Colorado home. The first time Mikaela Shiffrin put on a pair of skis, she was in her hometown of Vail. She was 5 years old. She still trains there today.

The international headquarters for team Shiffrin is in the family's living room in Eagle-Vail. There's usually an exercise bike by the couch and a laptop on the kitchen table to manage the catapulting career of one of the world's best skiers. The acronym on Shiffrin's helmet explains a lot about her. It stands for: "Always Be Faster Than the Boys."

Life has a rhythm. Shiffrin's moves at tempo few could keep up with. It's just the way she likes it.

"Why should anything hold me back?" she asked.

Shiffrin races on the U.S. Ski team. Slalom and giant slalom are her specialties. She is the reigning World Cup and World Champion in a sport where athletes often peak at later ages.

Days are spent training, traveling, racing and meeting her fans all over the world. Every day is centered around a dance through the gates.

"It is really technical, and it's moving your feet really fast," Shiffrin said.

She skies with speed and expertise, mastery that far exceeds her 18 years. Before she graduated high school, Shiffrin became the youngest female to win a skiing world championship in a quarter century.

But anyone who spends time with Shiffrin will not find the ego of a super star in the making.

"She is really genuine," her mom Eileen said. "She never makes herself seem more important than her accomplishments."

Shiffrin is a teenager who cleans up the kitchen after lunch with her best friend: her Mom. They've always been inseparable.

"I really like hanging out with my entire family," Shiffrin said.

She also loves a rare quiet moment playing guitar in her room. Shiffrin is the racer, who says her most memorable competition wasn't necessarily the big win, rather the time her brother, Taylor, surprised her at the finish.

"He means so much to me," she said. "Even in our baby pictures he was always holding me."

Growing up, Shiffrin was always moving.

"I was never content to just sit on the couch," she laughed.

She told stories of scooter races in the garage, and lawn mower rides. She would do anything to keep up with big brother.

"He was always the person I was following around. He started ski racing and I followed him," she said.

By kindergarten, Shiffrin was mastering the balance required to maneuver the sets of slalom gates. By 10, she asked her Dad, Jeff Shiffrin, when she could compete on the World Cup Circuit. Seven years later, she won it.

During 9NEWS' first visit with the Shiffrin's over the summer, they took us to their neighborhood tennis court where the views are fancier than the facilities.

"It is hit-and-giggle tennis, but it's fun," Shiffrin said.

It was summer training for a winter Olympic hopeful.

"It's really fun. It's something we've shared together since I was in diapers," she said.

Mom was as much a coach on the court, as she always has been on the snow.

Eileen is a master skier and spends hours on end watching video of races with her daughter. They are students of every detail.

"I try to compare myself with the men," she said. "I'm trying to close that gap a little bit more so I can be faster."

She spends so much time studying video. Shiffrin says she dreams about it.

"I do think people get tired of me deciding not to go to the movies, because I'm going to go watch World Cup skiing instead," she laughed.

Her diligence to study and train is working in spectacular fashion.

She is a phenomenon in Europe. Her fans swarm her.

When the world gathers for the Winter Games, many more will learn her name and watch the rhythm she creates as she dances down the mountain.

"If I were to win an Olympic medal, I think it would be what would mean the most to me in my whole career because of everything that the Olympics stand for," she said. "I think it is going to be a really amazing experience."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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