Skip to content

U.S. Alpine team experiencing power outage

Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

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. Oscar Pistorius trial will take break for 2 weeks

    Apr 16, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius AP

    Judge will spend break reading 2,000-page court record.

  2. ISU receives South Korea complaint over figure skating judging

    Apr 16, 2014, 4:17 AM EDT

    Yuna Kim Getty Images

    Korea Skating Union is protesting the makeup of judges, not the results.

  3. Boston Marathon tribute, moment of silence held near finish line

    Apr 15, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary AP

    Survivors, first responders, those affected by attack take part in tribute.

  4. Boston sports teams share same #BostonStrong tweet

    Apr 15, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT

    Boston Strong

    Teams’ tweets sent at same time Tuesday morning.

  5. Usain Bolt talks about foot injury, focus beyond 2014

    Apr 15, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT

    Usain Bolt Getty Images

    World’s fastest man might not race again until June.

  6. Can Michael Phelps excel in comeback?

    Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT

    Michael Phelps AP

    What is the competition like in Phelps’ potential events?

  7. Oscar Pistorius’ cross-examination ends at murder trial

    Apr 15, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius

    Prosecution asks for break until May 5.

  8. Boston Marathon tragedy remembered on anniversary

    Apr 15, 2014, 8:16 AM EDT

    Boston Marathon Reuters

    Ceremony, moment of silence to honor, remember last year’s tragedy.

  9. Catching up with Mark Henry

    Apr 14, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    Mark Henry Getty Images

    ‘World’s Strongest Man’ talks about nude photo shoot, pro wrestling career, meeting Andre the Giant.

  10. Michael Phelps coming out of retirement

    Apr 14, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps AP

    Phelps announced as headliner for meet next week, ending two-year break.

  11. How Michael Phelps spent his retirement (photos)

    Apr 14, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT

    Pele, Michael Phelps AP

    22-time Olympic medalist expected to come out of retirement next week.

  12. Update: One runner dies, another goes missing, found after London Marathon

    Apr 14, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT

    London Marathon

    Woman who finished 20th found day after disappearing.

  13. International Ski Federation defends slopestyle’s safety

    Apr 14, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT

    Alexey Sobolev Reuters

    It’s too early to draw conclusions on Sochi, FIS official says.

  14. Oscar Pistorius emotionally breaks down as prosecution alleges inconsistencies

    Apr 14, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius

    Pistorius hugged by woman as he enters court, signs autograph after Monday’s session.

  15. Slopestyle’s injury rate too high for Olympics, IOC official says

    Apr 13, 2014, 8:13 AM EDT

    Shaun White Reuters

    Ski and snowboard slopestyle’s injury rates highest among Sochi sports.

  16. Boston Marathon details security near finish line

    Apr 13, 2014, 7:56 AM EDT

    Boston Marathon Reuters

    More checkpoints, police officers along Boylston Street to the finish.

  17. Mo Farah beaten in London Marathon (video)

    Apr 13, 2014, 7:23 AM EDT

    Mo Farah Getty Images

    Farah asked if he will continue marathon running after disappointing finish.

  18. USOC has ‘serious concerns’ about USA Curling

    Apr 12, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT

    John Shuster, Jared Zezel, John Landsteiner AP

    U.S. men’s, women’s teams combined for 3-15 record in Sochi.

  19. Bode Miller’s next season likely to be his last in Alpine skiing

    Apr 11, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT

    Bode Miller AP

    Six-time Olympic medalist commented while attending the Masters.

  20. Catching up with Paul Wylie

    Apr 11, 2014, 1:57 PM EDT

    Paul Wylie Getty Images

    Silver medalist hasn’t been back to Albertville since 1992 Olympics.

Featured video

Inside Michael Phelps' comeback