US looks to Shiffrin after Vonn woes

US looks to Shiffrin after Vonn woes

BEAVER CREEK (UNITED STATES) - With Lindsey Vonn struggling at the World Championships, America's hopes rest on rising teenage star Mikaela Shiffrin, who makes her individual event debut in Thursday's giant slalom.

Third placed Mikaela Shiffrin of USA celebrates after the women's night slalom during FIS Ski World Cup on January 13, 2015 in Flachau, Austria

Shiffrin claimed gold in the slalom at the 2013 Worlds in Schladming, Austria and the precocious 19-year-old now has a dozen World Cup titles and a Olympic gold medal under her belt.

That means she has lost that element of surprise she had in the last worlds, when she was just 17.

But she can still become the youngest world champion in giant slalom in 30 years and the first female skier with two individual world titles before turning 20 since Erika Hess in 1982.

"I'm really excited about the GS. I want to ski free," Shiffrin said.

Like Shiffrin, Vonn grew up in Colorado's Vail-Beaver Creek area, so they are on familiar slopes.

Vonn, 30, will also compete in giant slalom Thursday, the US ski team confirmed, but after some sub-par performances in Beaver Creek and problems with her surgically repaired knee, not much is expected from her.

Not so for Shiffrin, who won both her head-to-head races in the team event competition Tuesday.

"I'm good to go. I'm feeling really healthy," Shiffrin said. "Now it's just about keeping my energy together for the slalom.

"I'm trying to be smart about which days I ski and which days I don't. Obviously I have to ski on race day and I want to put 100 percent of my energy out there."

Shiffrin said racing in the team event helped her prepare for the giant slalom.

"I loosened up and put my best effort out there and that's what I'm going to do for the GS. It was still a lot of fun," she said.

Vonn, who is coming back from two serious knee injuries, complained that her right knee was bothering her during Monday's super-combined races.

US ski team boss Patrick Riml has said Vonn would benefit from two days off to get ready for the giant slalom.

Vonn had to hold back tears in the finish area after placing seventh in the downhill portion of the two-leg super-combined race Monday.

Riml said the grind of racing and practising every week has started to take its toll on Vonn's knee.

"With all the pressure on her knee the last couple of months it has flared up on her," Riml said.

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