KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin can retain her World Cup slalom title on Sunday and become the only skier to secure a crystal globe before the Sochi Olympics.
Shiffrin can do it by extending her 144-point lead in the discipline standings to more than 200 points. A win on Sunday would give her 100 points, then she’d have to hope her closest rivals do not make the podium.
Winning the discipline title with two slaloms in March to spare would make for a huge contrast to last season, when Shiffrin had to make up 1.17 seconds on overall champion Tina Maze in the final run of the last event to snatch it.
This season, Shiffrin has been dominating the slalom circuit by winning three of the five races so far. Four-time champion Marlies Schild of Austrian won the other two.
No wonder Shiffrin is feeling she’s “coming off a pretty good season so far” heading to Sochi.
“Since this is my first Olympics I am not really sure what to expect,” she said in a teleconference call this week. “But I am going in with a positive feeling. I will ski my heart out and see if I can go for gold.”
Bad weather forced the cancellation of Saturday’s giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, though organizers were confident Sunday’s slalom in the Slovenian resort would go ahead.
Going into the race, Shiffrin has 402 points, Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter has 258, Schild 245, and Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon 206.
Wrapping up a second World Cup slalom title six weeks before the end of the season would also cement her status as the Olympic gold favorite, though carrying the weight of expectations doesn’t seem to bother her.
“I am not really feeling pressure in a negative way. I am using it as fuel for the fire,” Shiffrin said.
U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser told The Associated Press “she knows how to handle these situations. That’s really cool to see.”
Hoedlmoser recalled how Shiffrin stayed calm and focused when she successfully defended her first-run lead at a night slalom in Flachau in front of 20,000 spectators this month.
“She is not going to see a crowd like that in Sochi,” Hoedlmoser said. “There is not going to be half of these people. It’s just going to feel like a World Cup somewhere where there is not that many people.”
Huge pressure or a big crowd, “it doesn’t matter for her,” Hoedlmoser said.
“If she is going into a race, she wants to win it. And that’s going to be the same at the Olympics.”
Shiffrin used the 17 days without races following her victory in Flachau to train in Pozza di Fassa in the Italian Dolomites.
“Her GS skiing has improved so much from last year,” the coach added. “She has been able to be on the podium in GS now constantly. There is also some hopes to get a medal in GS, too.”
After coming second in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and third in Lienz, Austria, Shiffrin would love to get her first major win in GS at the Olympics.
“I am feeling really solid with my GS right now,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like every day I go out there, I am making something better and getting faster, and I really feel like that first win is on the tip of my fingers.”
The women’s GS in Sochi is scheduled for Feb. 18 — the first race in the discipline since a World Cup on Dec. 28 — followed by the slalom three days later.