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10 Years Ago Today, 16-Year-Old Mikaela Shiffrin Made Her World Cup Debut

Here's how it started versus how it's going for racing star Mikaela Shiffrin.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 11, 2011, when then 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin made her World Cup race debut in Špindlerův Mlýn, Czech Republic. Now, exactly 10 years later, Shiffrin has become the best slalom racer in the world, earning more World Cup slalom victories than any man or woman in World Cup skiing history. 

SPINDLERUV MLYN, Czech Republic – It wasn’t the typical Sweet-16 birthday celebration that most teenage girls experience.

Up-and-coming ski racing talent Mikaela Shiffrin entered the start house on Friday morning at her first career World Cup race, competing in a giant slalom in the Czech Republic. Naturally, it was quite a thrill for the Burke Mountain Academy racer who turned 16 on Sunday.

“It’s like a dream really coming true here,” said Shiffrin, about her first weekend of big-time World Cup racing. “I can’t explain it, but it’s something close to amazing. I’m just excited to be here.”

Shiffrin, who shares time between home in Avon, Colorado, and school in Vermont along with her brother Taylor, was the youngest racer in the 49-competitor field. Starting 43rd, she missed making the second run top 30, but was back at it on Saturday in the slalom, her best event.

Related: Mikaela Shiffrin Becomes Best Slalom Racer in Ski History

While it was Shiffrin’s first experience on the largest stage competing against the world’s elite female ski racers, three-time World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn was locked in a heated battle with Maria Riesch for this season’s overall title.

“Lindsey is so nice. I was nervous about meeting her because she is one of my biggest idols,” said Shiffrin. “Sarah (Schleper) too and really all the U.S. Ski Team girls.”

Lindsey Vonn, Sofia Goggia, and Mikaela Shiffrin on the podium
Seven years after Shiffrin’s debut, she stood atop a World Cup podium with Lindsey Vonn and Italian Sofia Goggia after finishing third in the Cortina downhill on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo: Erich Spiess/ASP/Red Bull Content Pool

“They’ve all been great, really supportive and they’ve told me that I could ask them anything,” she said. “I’m mostly trying just to not get in their way.”

“She’s pretty focused and it’s so cool to have somebody with so much talent come to our team,” said four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper about Shiffrin. “You love to see that. It’s making me inspired to ski another year.”

Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin pose with their World Cup Crystal Globes
Americans Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin celebrate winning World Cup Titles in 2013. Ligety collected a fourth GS Crystal Globe, while Shiffrin scored her first Slalom World Cup Crystal Globe.

Shiffrin performed admirably in the slalom, narrowly missing making the top 30 for the afternoon run, after finishing 32nd in the first run on the Svaty Petr Black Course, a piste which many of the other racers described as tricky and icy on the upper part. The young racer was a mere 0.05 seconds away from qualifying for the second run.

“I had a couple of mistakes, but knowing that they (other racers) came down and had mistakes too and were still fast makes me want to get to that level even more,” said Shiffrin on Saturday following her run.

“It was a good experience for Mikaela and I’m glad we brought her over,” said U.S. Head Coach, Alex Hoedlmoser. “She handled everything really well and did a great job. She had a big mistake right before the finish and still almost qualified. We know she has the speed to qualify and with another prep period, she’s going to be good.”

It has been a sensational season thus far for Shiffrin. She won two Nor-Am races in December in Panorama, British Columbia and then duplicated the feat in January at Sunday River, Maine, where she convincingly won slaloms on consecutive days by the large margins of 0.69 and 0.72 seconds.

Related: Mikaela Shiffrin Returns to World Cup Racing After the Death of Her Father

In February, she captured a bronze medal in slalom at the World Junior Championships in Crans Montana, Switzerland, despite skiing with a 24-hour virus. Of the 108-racer field, Shiffrin was the fifth youngest to take to the hill.

“It really prepared me for this,” she said about her World Championship experience and World Cup debut. “In the finish there are so many cameras around you and people checking equipment. It’s just so intense. And now I come here and it’s another step above. It keeps on getting better. It’s just a surreal experience.”

But what about a tangible birthday present? Every sixteen-year-old girl must receive something that she will cherish for years to come.

“I’m traveling to Vancouver for Nor-Am finals and I’m going to fly business class, that’s my birthday present,” said an enthusiastic Shiffrin. “I’ll have an extended birthday because of the nine-hour time difference. It will be nice.”