So far in these Olympics, the U.S. Alpine skiing squad has had a rough time in Sochi. The women have gamely soldiered on despite the absence of the injured Lindsey Vonn from the ski hill at Krasnaya Polyana, though success has been harder to come by for American women in Russia than it was in Canada.
Julia Mancuso was able to eke out a bronze medal in the women’s super combined, the 29-year-old from Reno claiming the fourth Olympic medal of her storied career. But she would be nearly a second off the winning pace in the downhill shared by Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Swiss skier Dominique Gisin, ending any hopes of claiming another medal in the event where she took silver in 2010.
And in the event where she has shown the greatest consistency on the World Cup circuit the past three seasons, Super G, her hopes were dashed on a tough course on Saturday that kept her off the podium in that event. Just as she was in the downhill, Mancuso would finish eighth in the Super G, more than 1.5 seconds behind gold medalist Anna Fenninger of Austria.
The women of the U.S. ski team have won a gold medal in four of the last five Olympiads, faltering only on the home slopes of the Salt Lake City Games in 2002; before that they had last been kept from gold in Albertville in 1992. The best chance for an American woman to extend the gilded streak will come on February 21, when reigning world champion Mikaela Shiffrin will try to hold off a veteran field for slalom gold at her first Olympiad. A victory for the teenage technical skier would be a welcome glimmer of hope for the American women.
Women's Alpine Skiing Medalists (Speed Events)
|SUPER COMBINED||Maria Höfl-Riesch (GER)||Nicole Hosp (AUT)||Julia Mancuso (USA)|
|DOWNHILL||Tina Maze (SLO)|
Dominique Gisin (SUI)
|----------------||Lara Gut (SUI)|
|SUPER G||Anna Fenninger (AUT)||Maria Höfl-Riesch (GER)||Nicole Hosp (AUT)|
The American men, on the other hand, have neither inexperience nor injury to account for their failures on the Olympic courses so far. In the downhill, all the talk heading into the race centered on five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller, who dominated the lead-up with the fastest times in the training sessions. The 36-year-old, though, would falter once showtime rolled around, finishing 0.52 seconds off the pace in eighth place. He wasn’t even the top-ranked American; that distinction belonged to 25-year-old Travis Ganong, who was an impressive fifth in his first Olympic appearance but was nevertheless another American who hadn’t reached the top three.
In the combined, the last two Olympic champions — Miller from Vancouver and teammate Ted Ligety from Torino — both failed to reach the podium, far out of the running. Miller would finish sixth, 1.40 seconds behind surprise winner Sandro Viletta of Switzerland. Ligety, who has had the best World Cup season of his career this winter, finished even further behind Viletta in 12th place — one spot behind fresh-faced compatriot Jared Goldberg.
Miller would finally taste a little success on Sunday in Sochi, winning a bronze in the Super G after the failures of the first week. Skiing 13th, he would have the fastest time early and looked solid for the podium. Seven skiers failed to eclipse his time before Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud set what would prove to be the winning mark, adding gold to the bronze he won in the downhill.
Next down the hill was Canadian skier Jan Hudec. Making up nearly half a second on Miller in the final section of the course, Hudec stopped the clock dead even with the American. It appeared that the two of them would finish sharing the silver medal behind Jansrud. None of the following skiers seemed able to better their joint mark of 1:18.67, and it was highly unlikely that anyone was going to go a full half-second faster to knock off Jansrud.
Then another American, Andrew Weibrecht, was the next countryman to upstage the more famous Miller (as well as Hudec). Putting up the fastest times of the day through the first three sections, Weibrecht was on pace to give the United States its first Alpine gold medal of the Sochi Games. A Cinderella story in the Super G four years ago at Whistler, Weibrecht had never reached the podium at any other international or World Cup race either before or after taking bronze at the 2010 Olympics. Suddenly it looked as though the 28-year-old Lake Placid native was about to upstage not just Miller and Hudec but also Jansrud and the rest of the field.
His speed tailed off in the bottom section of the course, bleeding away fractions of a second and securing the gold for Jansrud. But he would still stop the clock nearly a quarter-second faster than Hudec and Miller, bumping his way up the podium a step from Vancouver to take silver in Sochi.
“With the intensity [Weibrecht] has and the athletic ability he has on his skis, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Miller said about his teammate’s silver after the race. “I was on the podium with him [in Vancouver], and I was lucky to have snuck ahead of him last time. He got me this time.”
Men's Alpine Skiing Medalists (Speed Events)
|DOWNHILL||Matthias Mayer (AUT)||Christof Innerhofer (ITA)||Kjetil Jansrud (NOR)|
|SUPER COMBINED||Sandro Viletta (SUI)||Ivica Kostelic (CRO)||Christof Innerhofer (ITA)|
|SUPER G||Kjetil Jansrud (NOR)||Andrew Weibrecht (USA)||Jan Hudec (CAN)
Bode Miller (USA)