Phenom Mikaela Shiffrin. PHOTO: Jonathan Selkowitz

Phenom Mikaela Shiffrin. PHOTO: Jonathan Selkowitz

WORDS: Megan Michelson

Age: 18
Hometown: Vail, Colorado
Olympic discipline(s): Slalom, Giant Slalom
Career achievements: 1st place, 2013 World Cup Overall (the first American to do so since 1984); 2012 World Cup Rookie of the Year, age 16; First non-European to win four World Cup slalom races in a season

When Mikaela Shiffrin blasted onto the World Cup scene at age 16, she shocked everyone—except herself—by landing on the podium with a third place finish at a World Cup slalom race December 2011 in Austria. Even as a rookie, she knew she had it in her to win. The Vail, Colorado, native attended high school at Vermont's Burke Mountain Academy, a breeding ground for elite ski racers. In 2013, her sophomore year on the World Cup, she dominated with four slalom victories, becoming the first American woman in history to do so and the first U.S. slalom World Cup champion since Tamara McKinney. To use the words of Bode Miller, Shiffrin is, simply put, "a phenom." In Sochi, she'll be a gold medal favorite in slalom—going head-to-head with Slovenian machine Tina Maze—and is quickly becoming a promising GS racer as well.

I wasn't really surprised by my results. I knew I had the ability to ski fast slalom last season. The real question was: Would everything come together to allow me to ski my fastest in the races?

The most unexpected part of last season was the World Cup finals. I really struggled mentally with the first run and thought I had blown my chances for the title. But somehow, I got my act together on the second run. Tina Maze pretty much choked and more or less handed the title over to me. I guess the lesson to be learned there is, 'It's not over 'til it's over.'

I'm working on my mental game so I can avoid ever having races like last year at the World Cup finals when I let my nerves get in the way of my first run.

I work as hard or harder than most other athletes I know. I've also been fortunate to have had some of the best coaching I could possibly have. My parents just knew what to do and what to say along the way to keep me moving forward.

The women's U.S. tech team for the World Cup is just two athletes: me and Resi Stiegler. Resi was coming back from a knee injury last year and still had some awesome results, proving that she's still a world-class skier.

Maybe as the Olympics get closer I'll feel some nerves, but I'm not thinking about that yet.