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‘Half bear’ Mikaela Shiffrin rallies, repeats as World slalom champion

Mikaela Shiffrin

US skier Mikaela Shiffrin clears a gate during the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships women’s slalom on February 14, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colorado. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

Mikaela Shiffrin naps regularly, and it looked like she was hibernating about 30 minutes before she skied in the World Championships slalom Saturday afternoon.

She was shown on camera lying on top of snow near the start house on a warm afternoon in Beaver Creek, Colo.

“In fact, I am half a bear,” she joked later, after she said, “I was staring up at the trees and not thinking about anything. I was listening to music.”

The 19-year-old gathered herself and took to the course under the pressure of defending her title, as the favorite, in front of a hometown crowd.

At first, the time splits made it look like she was still groggy. Shiffrin, skiing with a four tenths lead due to her fastest morning run, had lost it all and fallen .03 behind Swede Frida Hansdotter with about 14 seconds left on the course.

“Between the first run and the second run, all I was thinking about was I honestly just have to try to hold my own against Frida,” Shiffrin said of Hansdotter, who has been better in the slalom during the World Cup season.

But Shiffrin flipped the switch on the final portion of the course, making up .37 to win by .34. Hansdotter had to accept silver with Czech Sarka Strachova bagging bronze.

“That took every ounce of my energy to pull myself together towards the bottom, not to blow it,” Shiffrin said, later adding, “Everybody I’ve seen so far said, ‘Wow, you almost killed us.’ I guess that’s the point, to have a good show, right? But it was not purposeful.”

Shiffrin crossed the finish line looking like the drama and the joy were lost on her. She was expression-less.

“I think I was still sleeping,” she joked. “I put a ton of energy out there, especially that last third of the course. I came away with the win, but I had no energy at the finish. I was like, I don’t know what to do.

“It’s always a little bit awkward because I feel like the best racers in history had the most epic finish celebrations. Ted [Ligety]‘s celebration yesterday when he chucked his ski. Lindsey [Vonn] falls on the ground. [Tina] Maze puts her finger in the air. I always watched these celebrations, and I go over it in my mind before the race thinking, how cool would it be if I won this, and then I did something so epic that everybody just starts crying.

“Then I get to the finish and I’m like, hiiiiiiiii. That was really fun. I’m so glad that I’m here and I won. This is fun. It’s a weird thing. I’m kind of a dork.”

Only one other woman since World War II has successfully defended a World slalom title -- Croatian legend Janica Kostelic.

Shiffrin, a teenager for one more month, has won every major slalom title the last three seasons -- Olympic gold, two World Championships and two World Cup crystal globes. Time and again, she has gone into major championships as the favorite and delivered.

“One of my motivating factors is not to be one of the examples that those authors use in books like choke or mindset or whatever,” Shiffrin said. “They always use examples of the champions who choked at some point, didn’t perform under pressure. I read these books, I’m like, oh gosh, it’s not so easy. Maybe they didn’t choke. Maybe they didn’t feel good that day.”

Shiffrin must carry over her success from Beaver Creek at her next races on the World Cup circuit in February and March to earn a third straight World Cup title. Only one other woman has won three straight World Cup slalom titles -- Swiss great Vreni Schneider.

Shiffrin trails Hansdotter by 41 points in the World Cup slalom standings with three races left. Skiers earn 100 points for a win, 80 for second place, 60 for third and on down the line.

But Shiffrin spreads her focus to another discipline -- the giant slalom. She won her first World Cup giant slalom race in October but has not recorded a GS victory since and was eighth in the event at the World Championships on Thursday.

“I really hope that in the next couple weeks, before my next race, I get back to my GS and really try to take the next step,” Shiffrin said on NBC. “I’m so close.”

The World Championships conclude with the men’s slalom, including Ted Ligety, on Sunday on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

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