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U.S. skier Shiffrin, 17, makes history in World Cup race

Dec 21, 2012, 12:32 PM EDT

Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Ever heard of Mikaela Shiffrin?

If you don’t closely follow Alpine ski racing, your answer is probably a no. But now is the time to start reading up on this 17-year-old Alpine skiing phenom.

At 17 years, 9 months and 7 days, Shiffrin became the third youngest American to ever win an Alpine World Cup race on Thursday after claiming victory in a slalom race in Are, Sweden.

Shiffrin is from Vail, Colo., and attends Burke Mountain Academy, a private school in East Burke, Vt. that teaches both academics and ski racing. Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in March 2011. Later that year she raced in another World Cup event and finished eighth in the slalom. A year ago, Shiffrin placed third in a slalom race at Lienz, Austria. Last March, she won the slalom at the U.S. National Championships – after doing the same at the 2011 Nationals.

So yeah, it’s probably time to start paying attention to this talented teenager.

When asked about her victory, Shiffrin had this to say (courtesy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association): “I was just trying to fly. I couldn’t imagine what winning [a World Cup race] would feel like. I only knew the feeling of knowing you’ve skied your best.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. Lindsey Vonn has the speed events covered for the U.S. women, the downhill and the super-G. You can throw Julia Mancuso into that mix as well. Mancuso and Shiffrin are solid in the giant slalom. In the slalom there’s really only one American we need to know about: Shiffrin. Her victory yesterday catapulted her to the top of the World Cup slalom standings.

So will we see Shiffrin on more podiums in the near future? And what about the Sochi Olympics, which are just over a year away?

“I met Mikaela last summer and she is indeed a great kid with a wonderful ski future in front of her,” said Kiki Cutter, the youngest American to win a World Cup race (slalom in 1968 at 16 years, 7 months, 1 day). “I am sure that we are going to see many more victories from Mikaela.”

Cutler was also the first American in history to win a World Cup race, so you can’t get much more of an expert opinion than hers. And if she’s right, Mikaela, we’ll see you on the slopes in Sochi.