FLACHAU, Austria (AP) — In her first full World Cup season, American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin can already match a record set by skiing great Annemarie Moser-Proell.
If Shiffrin earns her third win of the season in Tuesday's night slalom in Flachau, she will be at exactly the same age of 17 years, 308 days as Moser-Proell was when the Austrian earned her third career slalom victory in 1971.
Shiffrin obviously will need some more time to beat Moser-Proell's all-time record of 62 World Cup wins in total, but the American is already drawing praise from rival coaches and skiers. "She is way ahead of her age," Austria's technical head coach Guenter Obkircher said. "She races fast and has a very solid technique. And she has this youthful carefreeness. In Austria, we don't have such a racer of the same age."
Shiffrin is already the first American to win two World Cup races before turning 18, and will wear the red bib as leader of the slalom standings for the second time this season. She will open the race after drawing start No. 1 at a public ceremony Monday night.
Shiffrin's maiden win in Are, Sweden, in December sent her top of the slalom standings. However, she struggled with the pressure and failed to finish her next race in Semmering in the last event of 2012.
"It was a new situation for her," U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "But she has a very fast learning curve and I think that shouldn't be a problem for her tomorrow. She is superfast in training."
Shiffrin bounced back a week later by winning a night event in Zagreb, Croatia to reclaim top spot in the standings. In that race, the American shared the podium with third-place Erin Mielzynski, a Canadian slalom specialist who won her first World Cup race in March 2012. Mielzynski has followed Shiffrin's rise from up close, and isn't surprised with her success.
"I've been watching her since her first year (at FIS races)," Mielzynski said. "Mikaela is such a solid skier, she creates power but she stays strong over her skis. She doesn't get in trouble, and if she does, she can get herself out of it. It's amazing to watch her."
Mielzynski, 22, said it's not just Shiffrin's skiing technique that separates her from other talented young racers. "It's special that she can let things go when they might be bothering her," the Canadian said. "That's a special mindset."
World giant slalom champion Ted Ligety has also been impressed with Shiffrin's maturity as a ski racer. "She is a solid skier for sure," Ligety said. "She has been so good the last few races and last year, too. She doesn't seem like a 17-year-old when she's on the hill."
After winning in Zagreb, Shiffrin saw her season's earnings rise to $117,500 (€90,000). If she wins Flachau — the race with the highest prize money on the women's World Cup circuit — another $58,000 (€43,750) will be added.
The success, the praise, the money, it hasn't changed anything, Hoedlmoser said. "She is still a very hard worker, goes out to try to get better and better every day," Hoedlmoser said. "We just stay focused on training, we do the same thing ... She gets plenty of good training sessions in and we just continue on working in the direction we have been working."
This season's first five regular slaloms and the Munich city event, which counted toward the discipline standings, had four different winners, with Shiffrin and Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia each winning twice. Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Austria's Kathrin Zettel won the other two races.
Shiffrin tops the standings with 336 points, followed by overall World Cup leader Tina Maze with 310 and Velez Zuzulova with 305. After Flachau, there are three more World Cup slaloms scheduled, though only one before next month's world championships — in Maribor, Slovenia, on Jan. 27.
Shiffrin has said that winning the discipline title is one of her main goals. But the American is eager to show her class not just on the slopes. Days after last week's Zagreb slalom, local organizers received a note in which they were thanked for "a night I will never forget ... The race was run perfectly from the beginning to end ... Everything was first class and I want to extend my appreciation of all your hard work. I know what an enormous undertaking these races are."
It was signed by Shiffrin.