American Mikaela Shiffrin won slalom gold in the second event of her Olympics career, becoming at age 18 the youngest U.S. Alpine medalist in history.
The reigning World Cup slalom champion, Shiffrin finished with a combined time of 1:44.54 over two runs today at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. Marlies Schild of Austria was second with a time of 1:45.07, followed by countrywoman Kathrin Zettel (1:45.35).
Shiffrin’s is the second medal at the Sochi Games for the U.S. women’s Alpine team, following Julia Mancuso’s combined bronze last week. Shiffrin is the youngest Olympic slalom champion in history and youngest Alpine champion in the past 30 years, dating back to downhill winner Michaela Figni of Switzerland in 1984.
“I keep proving to myself that anything can happen,” Shiffrin said after the run.
Today’s gold medal is the first in what could be a long skiing career for Shiffrin, and marketers are taking note. The aftermath of the games could produce a $3 million bump in endorsement money and speaking fees, according to Baker Street Advertising Executive Director Bob Dorfman, and Shiffrin’s agent has bolstered her management team to capitalize on the buzz.
“She’s young, poised, and extremely camera-friendly,” Dorfman said. “Shiffrin, barring injury, could be the face of U.S. skiing for the next two or three Winter Games.”
Sporting a “USA” temporary tattoo on her neck, Shiffrin led all 85 skiers after the first run. Her 52.62-second run was 0.49 seconds faster than 2010 gold medalist Maria Hoefl-Riesch in second, and 0.67 faster than Slovenia’s Tina Maze in third.
U.S. fans shook cowbells and flags as Shiffrin started her second run. She was 1.19 seconds quicker on the first intermediate but slipped in the middle of the course, losing time as she went onto one ski. She threw her hands in the air as she crossed the finish line, 0.53 seconds ahead of Schild.
“I thought it was over,” Roland Pfeifer, Shiffrin’s coach, said of her near fall. “Luckily she was really ripping the top and it was just good enough to win.”
Skiing in her last Olympics, 29-year-old Hoefl-Riesch, of Germany, lost time in the final two intermediates of her second run to fall into fourth. Schild, who won slalom bronze in 2006 and silver in 2010, had the fastest second run, vaulting from sixth into second.
Marketing experts say Shiffrin has the skiing talent and off-slope charisma to mirror the marketing success of U.S. alpine teammate Lindsey Vonn, 29, who is missing the games due to a knee injury. A two-time Olympic medalist, Vonn has won a U.S.-record 59 World Cup races, and before her injury was America’s most marketable Olympian, according to Dorfman.
Shiffrin’s seven World Cup race victories, all coming in slalom, already rank her fourth on the U.S. career list, trailing Vonn, Tamara McKinney (18) and Picabo Street (9). Last year she became the youngest American to win a World Cup season title, and currently leads the 2014 season slalom standings.
Shiffrin was one of the featured athletes in NBC’s coverage leading up to the games, appearing in a one-hour special titled “The Making of an Olympian.” She was also on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Olympic Preview issue, a spot that Vonn occupied four years ago.
The hype surrounding her first Olympics led her agent, former Austrian skier Kilian Albrecht, to add Octagon’s Peter Carlisle to the management team. The agent for Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Carlisle and Octagon will assist with marketing, legal and public relations support for the skier, Albrecht said in an e-mail.
Shiffrin already endorses Atomic, Barilla Holding SpA, Leki Lenhart GmbH, Oakley Inc., Snap Infusion Supercandy and Procter & Gamble (PG) Co.
“I added them to make sure we are not missing out on anything to be able to give Mikaela the best support and all the opportunities also outside the ski industry,” Albrecht said in an e-mail. “We have the same goals and views on how to build Mikaela’s brand and how to position her long term.”
The daughter of two skiers, Shiffrin made her Olympic debut on Feb. 18 in the giant slalom. In rainy and foggy conditions, she finished fifth, a half second behind Maze, who won gold.
After battling a cold today that made it hard to breathe through her nose, Shiffrin said she assumed halfway through her second run that she would not be winning a medal.
“I was like ‘No, don’t do that, do not give up, you see this through,’” she said. “My goal was to keep my skis moving.”
Kirk Dwyer, headmaster at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, started working with Shiffrin at age 11. He said that she “sees skiing as an artist sees painting or playing an instrument.”
“She’s working towards mastery, and mastery takes a long time,” Dwyer said in a telephone interview. “As soon as you say, ’You’ve got it,’ she’s on to the next thing.”
Shiffrin at 18 years and 345 days is the youngest Olympic slalom champion of either gender, younger than Italian skier Paoletta Magoni-Sforza was in 1984 (19 years, 156 days).
Heading into the games, Shiffrin was known by 12 percent of the U.S. population, according to Connecticut-based Repucom’s Celebrity DBI data. Of those who knew her, 97 percent said they liked her, putting her in the top 4 percent of the database’s 3,200 celebrities in terms of likability.
Shiffrin said the gold medal won’t change her approach to skiing moving forward.
‘’I’m still going to be the same girl and still be looking for more speed on the mountain,’’ she said.
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