Vonn, Shiffrin and Mancuso: Copper welcomes the U.S. Ski Team for World Cup training | AspenTimes.com

Vonn, Shiffrin and Mancuso: Copper welcomes the U.S. Ski Team for World Cup training

Phil Lindeman
Summit Daily News

There's a war brewing in Mikaela Shiffrin.

At 20 years old, the Eagle-Vail native already has taken the ski world by storm, winning slalom after slalom on the World Cup circuit before taking Olympic gold in Sochi at just 18 years old. She's even slowly started to rack up podiums in giant slalom, including second place at the first World Cup grand slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 24.

This season, Shiffrin has her sights on more than the short course. She'll make her debut on the speed scene in early December with the World Cup super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta — the first truly deep race of the season and, as luck would have it, teammate Lindsey Vonn's best venue. It was the site of Vonn's first World Cup downhill win in 2004 and home to her 60th in 2015, which came after 22 months of rehab following the nastiest injury of her injury-plagued career.

The weight of the world hasn't quite shifted from Vonn's shoulders — the 31-year-old is still the most talked-about athlete on the U.S. roster — but Shiffrin is now under the same microscope. The young, sharp, energetic tech specialist is already expected to perform well at Lake Louise, and she just might. During downhill training at Copper Mountain this week, Shiffrin managed to outpace Olympic super-G champ Aksel Lund Svindal by nearly two seconds. She admitted that the snow was slow, but still, when she laughingly recalled her training rout of the male Norwegian superstar, there was a touch of competitive fire in her voice.

"It's easy to go from being confident to being arrogant when you have those expectations," Shiffrin said after trading her race suit for black jeans and a red flannel. "I've had moments when I think, 'I'm the best slalom skier in the world. No one will beat me.' And if I'm skiing my best, maybe I can be. The way it's worked in the past couple of years, when I'm relaxed and in charge, I can be on the podium, at least."

To Shiffrin's credit, the war between confidence and arrogance is producing one hell of a talented ski racer. She combines the fierce mentality of a young champion with the humble graciousness of a champion nearly a decade older — a balancing act that Vonn has down to a fine art.

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At the halfway point between Winter Olympics, it's the kind of mentality the U.S. Alpine Ski Team needs. The culture is shifting slightly: Vonn and several veterans are nearing the end of their careers at the same time Shiffrin and a handful of promising newcomers are ready to take the crown.

"She is noticeably different than any other athlete I've seen, even the men," Shiffrin said about Vonn. "She takes it seriously, and she does her job, and I think she's made more sacrifices than anyone else to get there, and I respect that."

Over the summer, Shiffrin and Vonn took time to chat one on one for the first time — no cameras, no flashbulbs, just teammates eyeing the pinnacle of their sport. The two sat down around hot chocolate in New Zealand and discussed nearly everything: the ski circuit, training, friends, family — "normal stuff," Shiffrin said.

They didn't talk about the topic on every reporter's tongue: Will Shiffrin make a push for the overall World Cup title this season? It belonged to Vonn for three straight years from 2008 to 2010, and Shiffrin is making an early push for overall points with the Lake Louise super-G.

"I think I'm on the radar — if I wasn't, I wouldn't be asked," Shiffrin laughed, then quickly got back to business. "I think that overall is within reach, but it won't be easy, especially with Lindsey. Obviously, she is a huge favorite and she's going for it. She's made that statement. It's her goal."

First Tracks: U.S. Alpine Ski Team naming

What: The official winter naming for U.S. Ski Team alpine athletes, with appearances from Olympians Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin and more

When: Saturday, Nov. 21 beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Copper Mountain

Cost: Free

The day-long event is free and open to the public. Things kick off with the NASTAR pacesetting trials on the slopes from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The naming ceremony takes place in Center Village at 1:30 p.m., followed by autographs and après from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, see http://www.coppercolorado.com.

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