Shiffrin wins World Cup slalom, reunites with teen fan
ARE, Sweden (AP) After outclassing her opponents to win her fourth World Cup slalom race of the season, Mikaela Shiffrin invited a young girl with a bashful smile to join her on the podium.
Emma Lundell, 13, is fighting leukemia. Though it's not over yet, she is starting to win that battle, and cites Shiffrin's courage on the slopes as her biggest inspiration.
"I feel that beats anything I can do on the race hill," an emotional Shiffrin said after the award ceremony Saturday in Are. "So she deserves to be on the top step of the podium."
Shiffrin clocked the fastest time in both runs to beat second-placed Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia by 1.41 seconds. Sarka Strachova of the Czech Republic was third, 2.15 back.
The result means Shiffrin, who turned 20 on Friday, is close to winning her third consecutive crystal globe as the best slalom skier on the World Cup circuit at the season finals in Meribel.
Her closest rival, Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, finished sixth in Are. To beat Shiffrin in the slalom standings Hansdotter needs to win the final race while Shiffrin fails to make the top 20.
"I will do what I can," Hansdotter said. "But she is fantastic and in a class of her own right now."
Despite her youth, Shiffrin already is Olympic and double world champion in slalom. She has 13 World Cup wins in slalom and one in giant slalom.
Her remarkable success has inspired young athletes everywhere, not least Lundell, a Nordic skier who first met Shiffrin in Are in December 2012, when the then-17-year-old American picked up her first World Cup victory.
At the time Lundell was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. She got a chance to meet Shiffrin after the race, a brief encounter that affected her so profoundly she considers it a turning point in her struggle with the disease. Lundell said her health has improved a lot since then and that she's stopped taking medicines.
"She has meant so much to me," Lundell said of her idol. "It was huge for me that a big star like her would see me. It gave me the strength to continue fighting."
Just like in 2012, Shiffrin gave Lundell her victory flower bouquet after the award ceremony on Saturday. She brought the girl up on the podium, and together they stretched their arms in the air like champions.
"Maybe it kind of looked cheesy or like I was trying to get attention," Shiffrin said. "But hopefully it made her smile today, because it was very amazing for me to have her come watch the race."