Road to Sochi: Team Oakley Athlete of the Week – Mikaela Shiffrin

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As many regions brace for the coming of winter, a handful of the world’s elite athletes prepare to compete on sports’ most prestigious global stage. The 2014 Winter Olympics are upon us and the remote region of Sochi, Russia is set to host the twenty-second edition of the biggest winter sporting event in the world. As the days until the Opening Ceremony count down, we invite you to get to know some of the most passionate, fearless, determined and awe inspiring athletes, some of whom you will undoubtedly see on the podium come February. Each of these athletes strive to compete in Sochi as representatives of their home nations, but are bound together, despite national boundaries, as members of another exclusive team: Team Oakley.

This week’s Team Oakley Athlete of the Week is Mikaela Shiffrin. It is hard to adequately describe the young 18-year-old’s meteoric rise to the top of the alpine ski world. Shiffrin is being billed as the next big thing in American ski racing and so far she has lived up to that name, and them some. As a teenager, Shiffrin has made a career of winning some of her sport’s biggest prizes, all while studying for high school before and after each day of racing.

So far the Colorado native has wracked up five World Cup victories since her debut at the young age of 15. She won her first World Cup event in December of 2012 at the age of 17, making her the second youngest American to win an Audi FIS Alpine World Cup event. Her biggest accomplishments would come in 2013 when she won both the slalom World Championship and overall season title.

Shiffrin has shown no signs of slowing down before the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. She already secured victory at the opening slalom World Cup event of the season in Levi, Finland and looks to build on that confidence going into Russia. Get to know the young American phenom in her own words:

Q & A

What does it mean/would it mean to you to be an Olympian, representing your country this winter in Sochi?

Representing the USA on a world wide stage at the Olympics would be incredible. It’s such an empowering feeling, to know that I have an amazing support system behind me— my family, friends, sponsors—all people who believe in me. Going to the Olympics with the entire USA as a support system would be so amazing, I can’t really put in into words. I hope to do my country proud, not just with results, but by representing the USA in a way that inspires others to pursue their dreams too.

At what point did you set your sights on becoming an Olympian? When did you realize that goal was realistic?

I started dreaming the “Olympic dream” about the same time that I realized it was a realistic goal. It was around 2-3 years ago when I had my first world cup start, when I realized that I was already starting on the path of chasing my world cup dreams. That’s when I started to think that the Olympics might be in my future after all, maybe even Sochi if I kept improving. Like everyone else, I loved watching the Olympics, but I was careful not to base my entire ski racing dream around competing at the Olympics because there are so many other goals that I could set and be proud of accomplishing. Once I knew the Olympics were within my reach, I set the goal to be an Olympian.

What is your favorite historic Olympic moment?

The most memorable Olympic moment for me was in Salt Lake City when Bode [Miller] came back from being 4 seconds behind in the Combined, and made up all 4 seconds in one spectacular run of slalom. He ended up with a silver, and then went on to win silver in the Giant Slalom as well. I wasn’t really old enough to remember watching this in 2002 when it actually happened, but one of my favorite movies is his documentary, Flying Downhill, which recaps his Salt Lake City Olympics. That was when I first realized how inspiring the Olympics are.

You’ve risen to the top of your sport at a very young age, all while going through school and growing up basically on the road. Describe how you balance all of these responsibilities all while maintaining success in your sport?

I think those responsibilities played a huge roll in how I got to this point. If I had dropped out of school to pursue only ski racing, I would have taken for granted that I had the opportunities and great coaching and support to succeed as a ski racer. Having to juggle school and travel and racing against girls who are 10 years older than I am left me without a sense of security in this sport. I never felt comfortable being complacent, because as soon as I felt that I was “good enough” I knew everyone would pass by me because they all had more time to focus on conditioning and skiing. Knowing that made me work harder in school and on the hill because I always felt like I was playing catch up, when maybe I was actually getting ahead. I still have that mentality that at any moment, if I become complacent, I might be left in the dust, so I have to keep charging ahead and stay on my toes, in school and skiing and anything else that life throws at me.

You’ve become quite the role model for many young girls within and outside of your sport. What does that mean to you and what type of example do you try and set, on and off the slopes?

It’s pretty incredible to be a role model for other kids, because I was in their position just 3 years ago. In fact, I’m still in their position in a lot of ways! I have a lot of role models, quite a few are now my competitors on the world cup circuit. I’m really trying to just stick to my own path and keep charging forward, and I hope that I inspire other athletes to enjoy that slow, sometimes frustrating, process of improving; to find passion in making 60 perfect and powerful turns in a row, not just winning.

For more on Mikaela Shiffrin, visit her Oakley bio HERE.