KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Mikaela Shiffrin’s first Olympic experience has been disjointed. She did not attend Opening Ceremonies, electing instead to hop around from Italy to Germany to Austria to continue training. She has watched the Alpine ski races on television, drawing conclusions about performance and pressure.
Most of all, she has envisioned the entire experience. For most teenagers, this would be a close-your-eyes-and-let-the-mind-wander dream. But Shiffrin long ago stopped falling in the category of “most teenagers,” so when her mind wanders, it falls on medals.
“I’ve definitely visualized myself here, talking to you all and on the top step of the podium and on the third step on the podium, whatever it might be,” Shiffrin said to a crowd of journalists Saturday. “I’ve envisioned myself crashing because I know what mistake I made in my head to crash, and I know that I’m not going to do that in the race.”
Shiffrin, 18, will first appear at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in Tuesday’s giant slalom, and her marquee race, the slalom, comes Friday night, when the Sochi Games enter their final weekend. At a news conference Saturday, the native of Eagle-Vail, Colo., appeared remarkably poised. She has considered all that the Olympics mean — pressure and attention, knocking knees and dropping jaws — and has decided to embrace it.
“I think there will definitely be more nerves because this means something to the rest of the world, so that makes it mean something more to me,” Shiffrin said. “. . . When I’m in the starting gate, I’m expecting to feel jitters because I’m about to leap into the start and go as fast as I can, trying to hit plastic gates. Who wouldn’t get nervous doing that?
“But it’s a really enthusiastic nervousness, and I’m starting to be able to channel that.”
Shiffrin can act confident because her results back her up. Last year, in her first appearance at World Championships, she won the slalom gold. This season, she leads the World Cup slalom standings with three victories and a second-place finish in six events. Add that to her four slalom victories last season, and she is a solid favorite for gold here, regardless of her experience level on such a stage.
“We all know what she’s done in the past, and it’s incredible,” said Patrick Riml, the Alpine director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “. . . Preparation went well. She’s skiing well. The race is another day, but she’s very well-prepared.”
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A significant part of that preparation has been imagining the moment. Shiffrin does not yet have a World Cup victory in giant slalom, but she has improved in that discipline — which is longer and faster than slalom, the Alpine race with the sharpest, most rapid turns. After pledging over the summer that she would reach the podium in giant slalom, she has done so twice. And she made clear that Tuesday’s race isn’t just a precursor to her main event.
“I’m really looking forward to the GS race, not just the slalom,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going for a medal in two events.”
She said it with a shrug of her shoulders, another matter-of-fact indication of her belief in her ability. She arrived here Friday night, and her parents were due in Saturday. She planned on training through the weekend, the physical manifestation of what’s playing out in her head, over and over.
“Whether I knew it or not at the time, every event that’s happened to me has been preparation for this, and this is preparation for whatever happens in the future,” she said. “I’ve always been really aware of that. And I’m also a thinker, so some races I think a little too much, and I start to doubt myself, but I don’t feel any doubt right now. I just feel really excited.”
There is, of course, the possibility of misfortune. In the most recent World Cup slalom race earlier this month in Kransjka Gora, Slovenia, Shiffrin led after the first run but struck a deep rut during her second, sending her to seventh.
But if such a fate befalls her in either of her two events, it won’t be because she wasn’t prepared.
“I’ve been here before in my head, for sure,” Shiffrin said. “To everybody, it’s my first Olympics. But to me, it’s my thousandth.”