American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest woman in 39 years to win the slalom world title on Saturday, adding a gilded edge to what has already been a breakthrough season for skiing's new big star.
At the age of 17 years, 340 days, Shiffrin beat all of her more experienced rivals to earn the U.S. Ski Team its fourth gold and fifth medal overall at these world championships, more than any other nation.
"It's such a crazy day," Shiffrin said. "It's so emotional. … I don't know yet, I can't feel yet. It's amazing."
Shiffrin was third after the opening run but took the lead in the second and then watched Tanja Poutiainen of Finland and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden fail to match her time. Shiffrin finished in a combined time of one minute, 39.85, with Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria ending up in second place, 0.22 behind. Hansdotter led after the first run but settled for third, 0.26 back.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac Etchemin, Que., was 13th, while Erin Mielzynski of Guelph, Ont., was 17th.
"This is a big lesson but the biggest races are a year from now [Sochi Olympics]," said Canadian women's coach Hugues Ansermoz. "We need to do some things differently than we did here if we want to have a chance of winning medals in Sochi. We need to be better."
Elli Terwiel of Sun Peaks, B.C., was 28th, while Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 30th.
When Hansdotter crossed the line, Shiffrin looked around in disbelief before hugging Kirchgasser several times. Shiffrin's parents Jeff and Eileen embraced each other in the stands, both with tears in their eyes.
"I keep saying it, I keep thinking it. It doesn't make sense," Shiffrin said when asked how it felt to be world champion. "It's just me."
Shiffrin said she was inspired by teammate Ted Ligety, who won the men's super-G, super-combined and GS titles.
"Oh yeah. For sure," she said. "I think everyone was. That was amazing."
Julia Mancuso won the team's first medal by taking bronze in the opening super-G, in which Lindsey Vonn suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Shiffrin is the youngest women's world champion in any discipline since fellow American Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, who was 21 days younger when she won the giant slalom title in 1985.
The only slalom world champions younger than Shiffrin were Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein in 1974 and Esme Mackinnon of Britain in 1931.
Shiffrin had already had a season full of milestones, winning three World Cup slaloms to lead the discipline standings.
After earning the first victory of her career in Are, Sweden, in December, she became the first American woman to win two World Cup races before the age of 18 by winning in Zagreb, Crotia, in early January. In Flachau, Austria, she added a third victory to match a record set by legend Annemarie Moser-Proell, who in 1971 was exactly the same age of 17 years, 308 days when she won her third of 62 races.
In her opening run, Shiffrin wasn't clean at the top and trailed Hansdotter by more than half a second halfway down her run before reducing the deficit to 0.18 at the flat finish.
"I was a little bit off balance. I missed a couple of the gates and hit them with my face," said Shriffrin, who finished a career-best sixth in Thursday's GS.
Shiffrin said the crowd of about 30,000 people "helped give me some momentum for the bottom."
Hansdotter, who finished runner-up to Shiffrin in each of the American's World Cup wins, once again failed to match the American's pace in the final run.
"I am super happy," Hansdotter said. "I had two good runs and now I have a medal. I wasn't nervous. I have to be happy because I have got a medal."
Kirchgasser, who was part of the Austrian team that won gold in the mixed team event Tuesday, earned her first individual medal at a major championship.
"It's just great. I thought, all or nothing," said Kirchgasser, who was fourth in the super-combined last week. "I didn't want to end up in fourth again."
Olympic slalom champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who won the super-combined last week, had 0.20 to make up in the final run but straddled a gate and failed to finish.
The fans cheered loudly for Marlies Schild on her return less than two months after picking up what initially appeared to be a season-ending injuring knee in December. The World Cup champion hadn't raced since the slalom 83 days ago in Aspen, Colorado, and placed ninth, 1.58 behind Shiffrin.
The men's slalom Sunday is the final event of the world championships.