ROSA KHUTOR, Russia - Being favored for gold is a huge compliment and a ton of pressure. Just ask 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin from Vail.
On Friday, she races to try and become the Olympic champion in slalom. If she does, she will be the youngest member of the U.S. women's ski team to accomplish it.
She is the reigning World Cup champion in this event.
Shiffrin is in Russia at the Winter Games navigating the demands and the pressure of international press and of an Olympic debut. She is often called "the new face of U.S. women's skiing."
There are public expectations and personal hopes.
"It is a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old. It is a lot of stress," her mom, Eileen, said.
But Mikaela Shiffrin is taking it all in stride. Her first race battled some of the worst conditions as skier can face. It was blinding snow at the top of the run, fog in the middle and driving rain at the bottom. She handed her fifth place finish with an optimistic and gracious attitude. She was a half-second from the gold medal time.
"Mikaela said the stress of that race was like 1,000 World Cup races," Eileen said.
Still, Mikaela managed to have a fun moment in the start gate. When a network camera came close to her, she winked.
"It was right there a few inches from me." Mikaela laughed. "You'd think in the age of HD they could zoom in."
She said she was nervous and needed to break the tension.
"My heart was beating so hard," Mikaela said.
Her Twitter followers and Facebook friends loved the spontaneous moment.
"I went from 40,000 friends to 100,000 since the Olympics started," Mikaela said.
Shiffrin isn't sure this will become a signature for her.
"I think it may be a one race wink, " Mikaela said.
She is focused on her slalom race.
"I am really excited for Friday." Mikaela said. "I realize I'm here at the Olympics and the amazing opportunity it is."
She says she is going to have fun.