KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — American skier Mikaela Shiffrin travels the world with her journals, filling them with thoughts about her sport and her life.
A good chunk of what the 18-year-old has put on paper lately is related to preparing for her Olympic debut — in the giant slalom Tuesday, when she planned to contend for a medal, and the slalom Friday, when she will be an overwhelming favorite.
"She was probably 13 when she started taking notes every day on what was good about the day, what was bad, things to keep in mind with her skiing," Shiffrin's mother, Eileen, said after accompanying Mikaela for practice on a fog-filled hill Monday. "She jots down things and reviews it."
Clearly, the approach works. After attending a skiing academy in Vermont, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in March 2011, two days before her 16th birthday. Nine months later, in only her eighth career race, she earned her first top-three finish. When she was 17, Shiffrin won a World Cup race for the first time. She comes to the Sochi Olympics as the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom.
The skier Shiffrin often is compared to, four-time overall World Cup champion and two-time Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn, is sidelined after recent knee surgery. So end up with a medal or two this week, and Shiffrin could be a breakout star of the Sochi Games.
"We all know what she's done in the past," U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said, "and it's incredible." All along, Shiffrin's been taking notes. Such as? "Thinking of things that I want to say and things I want to feel when I'm in the starting gate," explained Shiffrin, who is based in Eagle-Vail, Colo. "I'm sure on race day, there's going to be something that goes differently, and the trick is to be able to see that and expect it and move forward."
She's envisioned herself winning a gold medal. She's also pictured a bronze. And she's even seen in her mind's eye what a crash would look like, so as to figure out how to avoid that. "It takes a lot of courage to ... be able to see that in your head and then brush it away on race day, know that you've been through every scenario in your head, but treated it as if it's a brand new thing," Shiffrin said. "So right now, I think I'm the best prepared I could possibly be."
No one seems to doubt that. "She will handle the pressure really good," said Sweden's Maria Pietilae-Holmner, who is second in the World Cup giant slalom standings. "She's still young, she's not thinking too much, and I think she will for sure take one medal, at least."
Shiffrin herself — and her mother — are thinking about multiple medals. Both note that Shiffrin had two podium finishes in the giant slalom this season. "She has really high expectations for the GS. She definitely wants to medal in the GS, and I think she has the ability to, for sure," said Eileen, who is staying with her daughter in the hotel hosting the U.S. ski team. "She does have high expectations. She's been working really hard on her skiing, and she's going to go in and hammer, put the hammer down, and hope for the best. She's really excited. We're all really excited. We just hope we don't have any bad luck."
Plenty of people around Shiffrin, from her mother to U.S. coaches, say it's important to treat the Winter Games just like any other race. Keep things simple, keep distractions to a minimum and let Shiffrin do what she does so well: ski.
And while until Tuesday she'd never actually been in the starting gate with an Olympic gold medal at stake, she feels as though she has. She's visualized it, after all. And written about it. "I am really psyched to race, and I've been here before, in my head, for sure," Shiffrin said. "So to everybody, it's my first Olympics, but to me it's my thousandth."
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