By Alan Baldwin
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Mikaela Shiffrin is 18-years-old and at her first Winter Olympics but the big U.S. slalom hope says it feels like her 1,000th Games already.
Speaking to reporters less than a day after flying in to Sochi, Alpine skiing's slalom world champion said she had gone through every possible scenario in her mind and was as prepared as she could be.
"I am really psyched to race and I have been here before in my head," she said. "For everybody, it's my first Olympics but for me it's my 1,000th."
Shiffrin has been to Sochi before, spending a week training on the slalom hill last year, and also has experience of big events after her breakthrough at last year's world championships.
Her mental approach to the Games has been meticulous.
She explained how she had written down in her notebook all the questions she had been asked, or felt she might face so nothing would faze or unsettle her on the biggest stage of all.
She has, of-course, written down all the answers.
"In the past few weeks I've visualized myself here talking to you all, on the top step of the podium and on the third step. Wherever it might be. I've envisioned myself crashing because I know what mistake I made, in my head, to crash," she said.
While she did not think it was possible to be too prepared for something she has been preparing for all her life, Shiffrin accepted that sometimes she was guilty of overthinking.
"I'm a thinker so some races I think a little too much and start to doubt myself but I don't feel any doubt right now, I just feel really excited."
The U.S. team has struggled so far in the Alpine events, celebrating Julia Mancuso's surprise bronze medal in the women's super combined but failing to come up with anything in three men's races to date.
With Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn injured, Shiffrin is the team's big hope on the women's side and she recognized there was both a weight of expectation and pressure on her.
How she handled those few seconds at the starting gate before pitching down the piste could make all the difference.
"I think part of it for the U.S. (team) is that they are just trying to find a way to get in the mental game," she suggested.
"Sometimes at the Olympics it's hard for the best or fastest skier to actually win. It's easier for the ones who people think don't have a chance.
"It's just been interesting for me to see because it's a learning lesson that no matter how good you are, you cannot take your foot off the gas."
Shiffrin said she expected to feel more nerves because the Olympics meant so much to the rest of the world but she was also sure that she could handle it.
"When I'm in the starting gate I'm expecting to feel jitters because I'm about to leap out of the start and go as fast as I can ... and who wouldn't get nervous doing that? But it's a really enthusiastic nervousness.
"I'm starting to be able to channel that and make it into good skiing," she added.
The warm weather, and soft rutted snow, was criticized by some skiers after Saturday's women's super-G but Shiffrin said she was prepared for that too after recent training in Italy, Germany and Austria.
"As an athlete, as a ski racer, you have to be able to handle everything," she said. "To be a real champion and win across the board for an extended period of time, you have to be able to come up on race day and no matter what the conditions fight for that top spot.
"I'm not concerned. I have heard several athletes say it was too soft for me today. On race day I'm not planning to have that as an excuse. If I don't win, then it's because of something I did with my skiing."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)