Skip to content

U.S. Alpine team experiencing power outage

Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 PM EST

ligety2 Reuters

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Four years ago, after four events up at Whistler, the U.S. Alpine ski team could boast five Olympic medals, two of them gold.

Here, after four events, the count for the Americans: one medal, Julia Mancuso’s bronze in the super-combined, the event that mixes one race of downhill and one of slalom.

The men’s super-combined Friday, for instance, featured the Vancouver 2010 gold medalist, Bode Miller, and the 2013 world champ in the event, Ted Ligety. If ever a race seemed tailor-made for the U.S. team to win one or more medals — here it was.

VIDEO: Ted Ligety — “It was a choke”

Miller finished sixth, Ligety 12th.

Ligety, afterward: “I choked, for sure.”

Miller: “I was pretty lousy.”

Is it, well, all gloom and doom for the U.S. Ski Team, which — truthfully — in recent years has done much to back up its audacious claim to be “best in the world”?

Or do the first days of the 2014 Winter Games more accurately reflect a broader truth?

Which is: Alpine skiing is a hard game. Nothing — repeat, nothing — is guaranteed. To win, you have to be really good, conditions have to be right and, frankly, the breaks have to break your way.

That’s what happened in Vancouver.

Lindsey Vonn won two medals in 2010, including gold in the downhill. She is not here, injured.

Would she have won the downhill here? Who knows. But let’s be real.

Healthy, would she — the winner of 59 World Cup races and four World Cup season overall titles — have changed the dynamic of Wednesday’s downhill? Absolutely.

VIDEO: Wife to Bode Miller — “I need positivity out of you”

Miller won three medals in Vancouver, including that super-combined gold. He caught lightning in a bottle in 2010. He seemingly came to Sochi on a roll and absolutely dominated the three downhill training races. Then, though, he took eighth in the race itself last Sunday when the light changed, afterward saying that he hadn’t won a race in five years in flat light and maybe needs corrective eye surgery.

In good light Friday for the downhill portion of the super-combi, he made a mistake between the second and third intervals, going wide on a turn, that cost him precious time. In the second run, he simply hasn’t put in enough slalom time this season to hammer as hard as he needs but nonetheless went for it, all out, as only he can, in a course set by Croatia’s Ante Kostelic, father of the eventual silver medalist, Ivica Kostelic.

A Kostelic slalom set is full of unusual rhythms. A typical course on today’s World Cup circuit can be almost mind-numbingly repetitive in its precision, the gates seemingly fixed almost by laser and a drill. A Kostelic course hearkens back to the old days, with gates set in ways meant to punctuate a racer’s traverse down and across the mountain.

VIDEO: Miller explains why race was so challenging

It was a Kostelic set at the Vancouver slalom in the super-combi as well. So Miller knew, more or less, what to expect.

“Obviously,” Miller said, “I should have skied better in the downhill,” because he ended that 1.43 seconds behind the first-run leader, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who would eventually finish fourth.

“I mean, but — if I skied well, I would have been a second faster, probably, and that puts me on the podium. But I should have skied a second and a half faster in the slalom, and that would have put me on the podium.

“These days, in these conditions, you can’t make mistakes. I went through today pushing hard. I’m trying to do everything I can to be fast. The margins,” he said, are so small right now.”

Ligety, meanwhile, the 2006 combined gold medalist, had put himself — he thought — in excellent position after the downhill to prevail. He was 1.93 back after the first run. Unlike Miller, though, he had confidence in his slalom. The Koselic course set, he said, turned out to be “easier than I thought it would be.”

And yet, he said, “I definitely skied way too conservatively. That’s definitely frustrating.”

VIDEO: Three fences go down in crash

He added, as an explanation, “I just respected it too much. I respected the course too much.”

Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta won Friday. To give you an idea about the variability of ski racing, even at this level: Viletta has never won a World Cup super-combined. “At the moment,” he said, “I cannot believe this is true.”

Kostelic’s silver was the fourth in his career, and he offered beautiful testimony about it.: “One should not be unthankful for the silver. First of all, I could be anywhere. I could be in a hospital right now. I could be picking garbage in Calcutta or dying of hunger in Africa. Anyone who complains about silver or bronze doesn’t have the right to do so.”

Italy’s Christof Innerhofer won bronze; he won silver in the downhill. He had no expectation of winning a medal Friday, saying that in the slalom start house, “I was thinking of nothing. I was relaxed because I was thinking I didn’t have a chance … it is crazy I can be here [on the podium] today.”

Here, then, is the reality about ski racing.

Things might continue like this throughout these 2014 Games for the U.S. alpine team.

Then again, as the women’s halfpipe team — two medals of three — and the men’s ski slopestylers — a podium sweep — made abundantly plain, things might turn around, and fast.

RELATED: U.S., Canada coaches monkey around SC

“I mean, it’s a bummer,” Ligety said. “It would have been nice to get a medal today.”

But, he said, “There’s still a lot of events left. There’s still a lot of racing.” And, he said, “It’s all totally different racing than it was today.”

Latest Posts
  1. Rio Olympic Park construction progress (photos)

    Nov 28, 2014, 2:57 PM EST

    Rio Olympic Park

    How the venues for basketball, swimming and other sports are coming along.

  2. Mikaela Shiffrin: ‘I’m trying to show people what’s not impossible’

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:33 AM EST

    Mikaela Shiffrin Getty Images

    The youngest Olympic slalom champion tries to emulate one skier above all the rest — an Olympic men’s champion.

  3. Four-year ban sought for Carolina Kostner

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:17 AM EST

    Carolina Kostner Getty Images

    Kostner, the Olympic and World figure skating bronze medalist, is taking this season off.

  4. Seb Coe outlines concerns for track and field, eyes IAAF presidency

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EST

    Seb Coe Getty Images

    Coe sees problems with the World Championships and Diamond League.

  5. Iouri Podladtchikov out after ankle surgery

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:41 AM EST

    Iouri Podladtchikov Getty Images

    Olympic champion’s status for World Championships in January is unclear.

  6. Gracie Gold leads NHK Trophy; Yuzuru Hanyu struggles

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:30 AM EST

    Gracie Gold Getty Images

    Grand Prix final picture includes plenty of Americans.

  7. Rio Olympic golf course work can continue, judge orders

    Nov 28, 2014, 9:42 AM EST

    Rio Olympic golf course AP

    Legal battle may not be finished, however.

  8. Sapporo mayor plans 2026 Winter Olympic bid

    Nov 28, 2014, 9:24 AM EST

    Sapporo Getty Images

    Japanese site could break a 46-year Winter Olympic streak.

  9. Viktor Tikhonov tribute held at hockey arena (video)

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:47 AM EST

    Viktor Tikhonov Getty Images

    Tikhonov died earlier this week at 84 after a long illness.

  10. Ted Ligety (wrist) out this weekend

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:15 AM EST

    Ted Ligety Getty Images

    Olympic champion hopes to return for Beaver Creek next weekend.

  11. NBC Sports, Universal to air unprecedented U.S. ski, snowboard coverage this season

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:06 PM EST

    Ted Ligety Getty Images

    Full schedule of coverage across World Cups, Grand Prix events and World Championships.

  12. U.S. figure skaters officially bronze medalists, 50 years later

    Nov 26, 2014, 7:42 AM EST

    Vivian Joseph, Ronald Joseph Getty Images

    Sister-brother team had bronze medals, but the official results didn’t reflect that until Tuesday.

  13. Katie Ledecky faces decisions in 2015, 2016

    Nov 25, 2014, 10:46 AM EST

    Katie Ledecky Getty Images

    Scheduling conflicts, another new event?

  14. Rio Olympic commemorative coins to be issued

    Nov 25, 2014, 9:27 AM EST

    Rio Olympic coins

    Christ the Redeemer, Olympic motto honored on the coins.

  15. Michael Phelps back in the pool; Phelps, Ledecky win Golden Goggles

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:23 PM EST

    Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Phelps is working toward 2015 goals, a North Baltimore official said.

  16. Pat Quinn, who coached Canada to gold in 2002, dies at 71

    Nov 24, 2014, 11:25 AM EST

    Pat Quinn Getty Images

    Canada won its first men’s hockey Olympic gold in 50 years under Quinn.

  17. Claressa Shields, Marlen Esparza win World Boxing Championships

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:11 AM EST

    Claressa Shields Getty Images

    Olympic champion Shields was named the tournament’s best overall boxer.

  18. Viktor Tikhonov, Soviet Union Olympic hockey coach, dies at 84

    Nov 24, 2014, 9:17 AM EST

    Viktor Tikhonov Getty Images

    Tikhonov led the Soviets in the Miracle on Ice game.