LIENZ, Austria - As 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin stood on her first World Cup podium in Austria on Thursday, she wasn't sure how to hold all of her gear while gracefully accepting her award like the other two podium finishers did. She was sure about one thing, though - her dreams had come true.
"Honestly, it still hasn't registered in my mind," Shiffrin said Thursday around 9:30 p.m. Austria time. "All I keep thinking about is how good the skiing felt - I'm so happy I was able to pull it off."
Shiffrin won the second slalom run in Thursday's race in Lienz, Austria, which put her into third place. The race was Shiffrin's eighth World Cup start, and her fifth in slalom. The finish makes Shiffrin the youngest female skier to podium in a World Cup slalom since Tamara McKinney on Dec. 10, 1978. Shiffrin also became the third youngest American to podium in any discipline in a World Cup race.
Shiffrin's mother and father were in Austria to see their daughter race, something that added to the sweetness of her finish. Shiffrin's mother is traveling throughout Europe with her for the entire World Cup season, but her dad is only sticking around for one more stop.
"I was so excited that my dad was there," Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin stood on the podium and couldn't believe she was standing next to two of her idols - Marlies Schild of Austria and Tina Maze of Slovenia.
"Two girls I emulate and watch their skiing all the time," Shiffrin said. "There I was today, and it was just a dream come true."
She watched as those two women held their skis properly and shook hands with the award presenters, as Shiffrin fumbled with her equipment and felt awkward. She laughed about the whole scene.
"I was also just so excited," she said.
Working up to that moment has been difficult, but Shiffrin wouldn't trade her life for a so-called normal teenage life of going out with friends.
"I honestly don't miss that part of life," she said. "I'm so lucky to be in Europe for three months this winter."
Shiffrin has put in a lot of hard work, and plans to keep it up. She said she tries to keep herself grounded and always moving forward and looking for ways to get faster and better. That mentality helped her Thursday - she said she was able to remain calm and avoid collapsing under pressure.
Her veteran teammates help give her confidence, she said. She can simply watch them from afar and it helps.
"They give me pieces of advice every now and then - having that kind of relationship with these girls helps motivate me," Shiffrin said.
Teammate Sarah Schleper, who raced her last World Cup race at Lienz Thursday, is one of those teammates. Schleper said Shiffrin has more focus and determination than any 16-year-old she's ever met.
"She was an inspiring teammate for me," Schleper said. "How much she loves ski racing - she'll do great things for the sport."
The relationships don't totally revolve around ski racing, either. Shiffrin said they all laugh and joke around, and try to keep the mood light and fun.
As for the podium finish, Shiffrin is thrilled with it but she's not entirely sure it will speed up her momentum. At 16, she knows she has a long road ahead.
"We'll have to see. I just want to keep moving forward," Shiffrin said. "I know I'm still improving and developing - I know I have a lot of developing to do. ... Let's just see where it takes me, but I'm really excited to find out."
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.