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Mikaela Shiffrin: The next great Team USA skier is already great

At just 18 years old, Shiffrin looks to fill the void in U.S. women's skiing left, at least for the meantime, by Lindsey Vonn.

Francis Bompard/Agence Zoom

SB Nation 2014 Winter Olympics Preview

Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin has been called the next Lindsey Vonn for some time now, and that's a lot to live up to. Vonn is, after all, a three-time Olympian with two medals (one gold, one bronze) in 2010 and a four-time World Cup overall champion. In short, she's the most decorated American female skier of all time.

Meanwhile, all the 18-year-old originally from Eagle-Vail, Colo., continues to do is meet, if not exceed, those elevated goals thrust upon her, especially as her first Olympics draws near.

"I'm not going in with any expectations, I'm just looking to race."

"I guess I'm just going try to ignore it," Shiffrin recently said of her status as a medal favorite with a giggle. "I'm just going to try to not let it distract me, but I don't think it really needs to be a distraction at all. I'm not going in with any expectations, I'm just looking to race."

Like Vonn, Shiffrin was put on skies by her former competitive racer parents almost immediately after she could walk. Since then, she has been flying down the hill in similar tracks as the childhood hero to which she is most often compared, and with whom she holds a fellowship.

"I mostly just watch what she does," Shiffrin told a throng of media assembled in front of her in Park City, Utah, in September. "She's so professional, she works hard, she's always really friendly to me, and I've learned a lot from her without her having to tell me."

It's at least in part because of Vonn that the young pupil even chose to take up the sport's native tongue.

"I think it's pretty much because Lindsey speaks German, and everybody really respects that," she said, before adding, "Ski racing is pretty much a German sport, and it says something that you're trying to learn the language. And I just like learning languages."

Besides a little imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, Shiffrin has actually already bested some of Vonn's early achievements. She is the first American to win two World Cup races before turning 18. It took Vonn until age 20 to win her first. Still, Shiffrin has a ways to go if she's ever going to top the American icon's 59 total World Cup victories. But with seven wins already, including three season to go along with three additional podiums for 14 total, she's well on her way.

The teenager isn't letting any of the high talk or preliminary praise help her get ahead of herself, though -- even if it's the Olympics. Asked if she'd approach Sochi like any other race, she stated, simply, "Yeah, I mean, 'cause it is. There's a start and a finish, and a couple gates between, and that's what I'm going for.

"I would love to believe that going to Sochi, skiing my best, I have the ability to win a medal in GS or slalom. I always want to win, but there's some time between now and then. I'm excited just to see the whole aura and what it's like to actually compete, because I've seen it on TV. I'm excited to try and balance that excitement with just racing."

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