American teen makes slalom history
American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest women's slalom world champion in 39 years on Saturday.
United States skiier Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates winning gold in Schladming, Austria on Saturday.
At the age of 17 years, 340 days, Shiffrin beat all of her more experienced rivals to earn the U.S. team its fourth gold and fifth medal overall at the worlds, more than any other nation.
"It's such a crazy day," Shiffrin said. "It's so emotional ... I don't know yet, I can't feel yet. It's amazing."
The 17-year-old Shiffrin was third after the opening run but finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 39.85 seconds to beat Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria by 0.22 and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.26.
After the race in front of a crowd of 30,000 had ended, Shiffrin looked around in disbelief before hugging second-place Kirchgasser several times. Shiffrin's parents Jeff and Eileen embraced each other at the stands.
"I keep saying it, I keep thinking it. It doesn't make sense. It's just me," Shiffrin said when asked how it felt to be world champion.
In the first run, Shiffrin said she didn't feel quite right.
"I just tried to find my legs. They popped up out of nowhere," she said. "I was in the starting gate and I was like, `Oh, there they are, I can go now!'"
After finish in first, Shiffrin thought, "I hope it holds. I was thinking so many things and I just can't even remember it. It's one of those things where everything is a blur and that's how you know it was good."
Shiffrin said she was inspired by teammate Ted Ligety, who won the men's super-G, super-combined and GS titles.
"Oh yeah! For sure," she said. "I think everyone was. That was amazing."
Julia Mancuso won the United States' first medal by taking bronze in the event-opening super-G.
Shiffrin is the youngest women's world champion in any discipline since fellow American Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, who was 21 days younger when she won the giant slalom title in 1985.
The only slalom world champions younger than Shiffrin were Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein in 1974 and Esme Mackinnon of Britain in 1931.
Shiffrin had already had a breakthrough year, winning three World Cup slaloms this season to lead the discipline standings.
By winning in Zagreb, Croatia, in early January, she became the first American woman to win two World Cup races before the age of 18. In Flachau, Austria, she added a third victory to match a record set by legend Annemarie Moser-Proell, was in 1971 at exactly the same age of 17 years, 308 days when she won her third of 62 races.
Hansdotter led the race after the opening run but could not match Shiffrin's pace in the final. The Swede had finished runner-up to Shiffrin in each of the American's World Cup wins.
"I am super happy," Hansdotter said. I had two good runs and now I have a medal. I wasn't nervous. I have to be happy because I have got a medal."
Kirchgasser, who was part of the Austrian team that won gold in the mixed team event Tuesday, earned her first individual medal at a major championship.
"It's just great. I thought, all or nothing," said Kirchgasser, who just missed the podium in fourth during the super-combined last week. "I didn't want to end up in fourth again."
Olympic slalom champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who won the super-combined world title last week, had 0.20 to make up in the final run but straddled a gate and failed to finish.
The fans cheered loudly for Schild on her return less than two months after picking up what initially appeared to be a season-ending knee injury in December. The World Cup champion hadn't raced since the slalom 83 days ago in Aspen, Colo., and placed ninth, 1.58 behind Shiffrin.
The men's slalom Sunday is the final event of the world championships.