U.S. 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin wins slalom gold

Mikaela Shiffrin made Olympic history. (USATSI)
Mikaela Shiffrin made Olympic history, becoming the youngest slalom champion. (USATSI)

Lindsey who?

18-year-old American skiing sensation Mikaela Shiffrin capped her sudden rise to stardom with the gold medal in Friday's women's slalom, becoming the youngest slalom champion -- male or female -- in Olympic history.

The Vail, Colo. native completred her two runs in 1:44.57, .53 seconds ahead of silver medalist Marlies Schild of Austria. Schild's countrywoman Kathrin Zettel took bronze.

Shiffrin entered the competition as the favorite after dominating the event on the World Cup circuit, and lived up to that billing in her spectacular first run, skiing a 52.62 to lead second-place Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany -- the defending Olympic champion -- by more than half a second.

Shiffrin said the course was set tighter than normal with gates 9 to 10 meters apart, when 10 to 11 would be more customary.

“That’s not too tricky; it just means you have to move your feet quicker,” Shiffrin told Reuters after the first run. “My plan was to try to move my feet faster than everyone else, and I guess I moved them five-tenths faster.”

With Hoefl-Riesch and several other top contenders faltering, Shiffrin took the course for the final run of the competition with a lead of more than 1.3 seconds over Schild. But a mid-run mistake in which her left ski flew off the snow threatened to throw her off the course -- and did cost her a sizable chunk of her advantage.

Shiffrin showed remarkable balance to recover, though, and skied cleanly through the bottom half the run to claim gold. 

The gold medal is the second for an American skiier in Sochi, joining Ted Ligety's in the giant slalom. Ligety will compete in the men's slalom Saturday. The medal is the fifth overall for U.S. skiers -- three shy of the eight won in Vancouver, but three more than Americans won in any Olympics between 1998 and 2006. 

The gold medal is Team USA's ninth of the Games, tying Canada for the second-most behind Norway's 10. The U.S. currently leads the overall medal count with 26.

Shiffrin is the first American woman to win a slalom medal of any color since Barbara Cochran won gold at the Sapporo Games of 1972.

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