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updated: 2/20/2014 5:44 AM

Teen Shiffrin chases gold in slalom, her specialty

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Associated Press

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Mikaela Shiffrin came to the Sochi Games hoping for two medals. Didn't matter one bit that she's only 18 or that she's at her first Olympics.

After a fifth-place finish in the giant slalom, the American gets to race Friday in her specialty, the slalom, which she has ruled for the past two years, including a world championship and World Cup title. She's won eight of the past 18 slaloms; no one else has won more than two in that span.

It's the last women's event on the Alpine hill at Rosa Khutor, and the second leg will be under the lights at night.

"I've been preparing for this for my entire life, really. Whether I knew it or not at the time, every single instance, every event that's happened to me -- it's been preparation for this and preparation for whatever happens in my future," Shiffrin said. "I've always been really aware of that."

That's why Shiffrin was able to smile and even laugh and, at least publicly, brush aside whatever disappointment she might have felt when she wound up out of the medals in the giant slalom on Tuesday.

Asked that day which of her two GS runs she would like to redo, she replied: "I wouldn't redo any of them. I think this was supposed to happen."

In what way?

"I believed that I wasn't going to win my first World Cup slalom race until I was ready, because if I won it a minute sooner, then I wouldn't be able to continue to win," explained Shiffrin, who lives in Eagle-Vail, Colo.

"And I think it's the same for my first GS. I was really thinking that my first GS win would be at the Olympics, and that would be such a cool thing to accomplish. But it's just something that I accept: I got fifth today," she said. "There are four girls who skied better than I did, and I'm really excited to analyze their skiing and analyze mine."

The GS winner was Tina Maze of Slovenia, who also took gold in the downhill, and can become only the second woman in Olympic history with three titles at a single Winter Games. Janica Kostelic of Croatia did it at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Maze pushed Shiffrin during the 2012-13 World Cup season for the slalom title. It came down to the last race, when Shiffrin took first place and Maze was third.

"Now she's done GS, so will probably be more relaxed for slalom," Maze said about Shiffrin. "She's a great athlete. She has a great team around her. They are working really good. For that age, she's great, amazing."

Others to watch Friday include the defending champion, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Marlies Schild of Austria, and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, who won the most recent World Cup slalom on Feb. 2 in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, and is second, behind Shiffrin, in the season standings.

Hansdotter also was the slalom bronze medalist at last year's world championships, where Shiffrin became the youngest woman to win a world title since 1985.

Hoefl-Riesch already owns four Olympic medals, including a super-combined gold and super-G silver at the Sochi Games, but she skipped the giant slalom because she's been dealing with a cold and breathing problems. After practicing Thursday, though, she decided to compete in the slalom, Germany's Alpine spokesman Ralph Eder told The Associated Press.

Schild's only Sochi event is the slalom. She was the 2010 silver medalist and holds the World Cup record of 35 victories in that discipline, with two this season.

If it comes down to Shiffrin vs. Schild on Friday, the president of the Austrian ski federation, Peter Schroecksnadel, thinks the difference could depend on the snow conditions.

"If it's softer snow like (it's been), I think Shiffrin has the advantage, because Marlies likes skiing on hard ice," Schroecksnadel said. "Shiffrin is a very smooth skier. I think she has very good chances to win the slalom."

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