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Shiffrin aims big for home world champs season

AP - Sports
Shiffrin aims big for home world champs season
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LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP) -- Having already achieved quite a bit in her short skiing career, Mikaela Shiffrin has a rather long to-do list for her final year as a teenager.

It's a good thing the American has no problems coming up with new goals, since she ticked off some major ones at 18: winning an Olympic gold and her second straight World Cup slalom title.

After turning 19 on Thursday, Shiffrin is already looking ahead to what she can achieve both on and off the slopes in a season that will culminate in the 2015 world championships in her hometown of Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Among them: Defend the slalom world title she won at the age of 17, add super-G to her race program, and help inspire more Americans to ski. Win a third straight World Cup slalom title. Visit her grandmother in Massachusetts. Visit David Letterman again in New York as a guest on his show. Plan for her college education.

Shiffrin feels responsible for the sport she loves, and in which she has quickly become one of the most admired and marketable stars.

''That has kind of been my goal from the start,'' she said. ''To see how much I can actually be an advocate for ski racing and make it bigger than what I have right now.''

''It's amazing in Europe,'' said Shiffrin, who figures to spend about around five months there each year. ''Everybody loves the sport but you go back to the U.S. and people are like ... they don't care.''

After another Winter Olympics where the United States ski team excelled - taking home five medals, including gold for Shiffrin in slalom and Ted Ligety in giant slalom - she sees a ''a real opportunity'' in having the next major Alpine event on home snow for the first time in 16 years.

''It probably couldn't come at a better time because right now it seems like skiing is really dying in the U.S.,'' the Vail native said. ''Hopefully we can get some people out there who don't really know about ski racing but they see the world champs and get excited.''

Shiffrin can reach viewers through NBC coverage of the Feb. 2-15 event, and is also committed to connecting directly with fans she meets.

She remembers the advice from American ski great Andrea Mead Lawrence, a double gold medalist at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, at a pre-season team pep talk: Take an extra second to look an autograph-seeking child in the eye.

''We're in the age of Facebook and Twitter where you don't even get to see people face to face and now it seems like we're just avoiding that,'' said Shiffrin, speaking at the team hotel in Lenzerheide ahead of the season's final slalom race - which she won.

''Sometimes it's a little bit stressful, for sure, but it's cool to be engulfed in a bunch of people who all want to look you in the eyes and say that they did.''

Shiffrin is certainly a star attraction at the Swiss venue, where appreciative fans remember her stunning second-run charge one year ago to edge favorite Tina Maze of Slovenia for the season-long slalom title.

''Everybody loved it except for me,'' Shiffrin joked, remembering a first run where she had ''forgotten how to ski. It was so stressful, and I hate feeling that way with skiing because it's supposed to be fun.''

Still, overcoming the toughest test of her career to that point was ''a huge step'' toward calmly clinching the Olympic title she was strongly favored to win.

''I was singing in the starting house. I kind of felt like I was annoying everyone else,'' she said. ''That's the way I saw the Olympics - as putting on a show for the crowd, all of us together.''

The next episode for Shiffrin is scheduled at the U.S. nationals next weekend in Squaw Valley, California, before planning for next season and her own future.

''The next step is trying to figure out what I can do with college,'' she said. ''I don't want to drop the ball on my education. I have to take a personal finance course, for sure.''

Shiffrin had already earned World Cup prize money of more than $250,000 going into the weekend, and that figures to increase next season with improved GS results and more super-G races on her program.

Next February, she will try to balance being a poster girl for the world championships with preparing to challenge for three golds.

''I probably will stay at my house since it's right at the base at Beaver Creek which is going to be really nice,'' she said. ''Then I'll have a little bit of isolation there. Whatever I can do to keep it quiet at the big events.''

On race day, Mikaela Shiffrin will happily step into the spotlight.

''It's essentially just a TV show and so we're the actors and we have to assume that role,'' she said. ''And it's nice because that doesn't conflict with having fun.''

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