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Alpine skiing: Slalom princess Shiffrin takes on queen Schild

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

All eyes will be on US teen racer Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday when she competes in her first ever slalom world championship race.

However, reigning champion Marlies Schild of Austria will be burning to show she is still on top, having battled to come back for the two-week ski fest following a knee injury that took her out in mid-season.

At the time of her injury during training in Are, Sweden, in December, the 31-year-old Schild was leading the World Cup slalom rankings.

But following her exit, Shiffrin was quick to fill her place and establish herself as slalom princess.

With three World Cup wins in just her second season, the 17-year-old shot to the top of the slalom rankings and finished an impressive sixth in the giant slalom here on Thursday -- the best result of her career in that discipline, in her first ever world championship race.

The level-headed teenager admitted she was still "trying to catch up with a lot of girls out there who have 10 years of training on me" and wanted to remain focused on her skiing amid the hype surrounding her.

"It's just skiing. I'm just having fun with it and trying to go fast."

The return of slalom queen Schild, a four-time slalom World Cup winner and Olympic silver medallist, left her undaunted. If anything, it seemed to spur her on.

"I'm really excited to have Marlies back racing, she's always been an inspiration to me," Shiffrin said ahead of her duel with one of her idols.

"Throughout this season, I've had three wins and I'm proud of it but I've always felt like there was that piece missing because Marlies, she's the slalom queen.

"I can win 'snow princess' or all those different titles but she wasn't there.

"So I'm excited to have her back and I'm sure there's a lot of pressure on her but I think that she's going to perform strongly and I'm really excited to race against her. It's a complete field now."

Ironically, Shiffrin's sensational run began in precisely the same place where Schild tore a ligament in her right knee on December 20, prompting fears she would be out for the season and unable to compete in these world championships on home snow.

After her first World Cup win in Are, the teenage debutante went on to top the podium in Zagreb and Flachau, placing her squarely in the lead in the World Cup slalom rankings, ahead of Slovenian all-round fighter Tina Maze.

Schild, who was automatically qualified for the world championships as defending champion, only confirmed her participation on Wednesday, but has long looked forward to competing in her first worlds on home snow, probably one of the reasons she fought so hard to come back.

"It's a gift for me to be able to be here. Anything else is just an added bonus," she said.

"I don't have any expectations. It was clear that if I raced, then only without any pressure," said the Austrian, who hasn't taken part in a competition in two months.

Shiffrin should not, however, expect an easy race.

"Everyone knows I'm a fighter," said Schild. "Mikaela is a great skier, she's a sensational racer... It will be very exciting."

Fresh from her super-G gold and two silver medals in giant slalom and super-combined, Maze could also realistically target a fourth medal at these world championships come Saturday's race.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130215/alpine-skiing-slalom-princess-shiffrin-takes-queen-schild