Over the years, Mikaela Shiffrin has been patiently refining her technique, trying to get it just perfect.
Her signature for autographs, that is. Her skiing is pretty letter perfect, too.
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Shiffrin added another title to her impressive collection, winning the slalom by a huge margin Saturday at the U.S. Alpine Championships.
The 20-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colorado, finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 33.02 seconds to beat Paula Moltzan by 4.31 seconds. Megan McJames was third.
Shiffrin opened a 2.62-second advantage after the first run at Sugarloaf resort. She was so relaxed that she signed autographs as she waited for the final run.
Because here, she’s treated like a rock star.
"It takes some getting used to come out here and have people screaming my name in different directions and I’m like, `I can’t be in 10 places at once,’" said Shiffrin, who estimated she signed her first autograph when she was 5 years old. "These kinds of races mean a lot because of who comes, because it’s the next generation of skiers who shows up and watches and hopefully gets inspired by all of the racing, not just me. It’s cool for me to see that excitement.
"This is the perfect way to end the season and get ready for the new season. It gives me some motivation to keep pushing it and keep trying to do my best because there are thousands of kids here who are trying to do their best, too."
This has been quite a year for Shiffrin, who’s coming off a World Cup season in which she captured her third straight slalom title. She also won the slalom at the world championships last month in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Shiffrin was the Olympic champion in the event at the 2014 Sochi Games.
"Looking back on the last three years, knowing how much doubt I had, but also how much confidence I had in my skiing and motivation to improve, that is what’s gotten me here," Shiffrin said. "A lot of (these skiers) are one year, two years younger than me and in the same position I was in two years ago. It’s cool to see that."
Her goal right now is to inspire the next generation, even if she’s still part of that next generation.
"I have several more years in me of ski racing," Shiffrin said, laughing. "It was not so long ago that I showed up at U.S. nationals for my first time, thinking I don’t know if I can do that well here. I don’t know if I’m that good of skier. Since those nationals, it’s been going quite quickly."
Along with autographs, Shiffrin’s been asked for advice by up-and-comings skiers.
"Sometimes, I’m not sure what to tell them," she said. "Honestly, I don’t have that much more life experience than you. I’ve traveled a little bit more. I can kind of tell you how to handle the jet lag."
Shiffrin certainly inspires Moltzan, who uses her teammate as a gauge in training. There was a time when Moltzan was finishing four seconds behind Shiffrin after each slalom run. Now, it’s more like two seconds.
"It’s nice to have a benchmark to see how you’re progressing," said Moltzan, who’s from Lakeville, Minnesota. "I’m still two seconds behind her in each run. I have a lot of improving to do."