Olympic Alpine Skiing 2014: Analyzing Sport's Top Storylines so Far in Sochi

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2014

Women's downhill medalists, from left, Slovenia's Tina Maze and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin, who tied for the gold, and Switzerland's Lara Gut, who finished third for the bronze, pose with their medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash/Associated Press

The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi keep rolling along, and one of the most enticing sports thus far has been Alpine skiing. With underdogs reaching the podium, dramatic finishes and past champions successfully defending their titles, we have been fortunate enough to see some compelling storylines unfold this year.

After Wednesday's action, three Alpine skiing events have now concluded—the men's downhill, women's super combined and women's downhill. Each of these events provided some noteworthy results that captured the public's attention.

Let's take a closer look at the top Alpine skiing storylines that have transpired thus far in Sochi and break down the podium for each of these events.


Men's Downhill: Underdog Matthias Mayer Shocks the World

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

This event may not have received the biggest headlines early on in the 2014 Olympic Games; however, upon its conclusion, everything changed.

Austria's Mayer shocked the skiing world by taking home the gold medal in an unforeseen conclusion to the event.

He is a solid skier, but he was not considered to have a chance at reaching the podium here—let alone earn a gold medal. Never finishing higher than fifth in a World Cup downhill race, he was overlooked heading into the men's downhill event.

This event was supposed to feature American skier Bode Miller; however, after some trouble in the middle of the course, he was unable to regroup, finishing in eighth place.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was another favorite to reach the podium, but he had some trouble on the course as well and finished in a disappointing fourth place.

These mishaps from the favorite athletes in this event paved the way for Mayer's improbable victory.

During an interview with David Leon Moore of USA Today, the 23-year-old shared his delight with his performance: "This is unbelievable. I thought maybe in a few years I could dream of this sort of achievement. It was really cool and my family will be excited. I woke up this morning and I knew that I could win this race. I was smiling the whole day, all throughout inspection. It was my day today."

Mayer's finish here is a great lesson for any Olympic athlete: No matter what is expected to happen and what the initial seeding looks like, each competitor has a chance for glory in the Winter Games.


Women's Super Combined: Maria Hoefl-Riesch Repeats, Julia Mancuso Shines

Morry Gash/Associated Press

The very next day after the dramatic conclusion in the men's downhill, it was the women's turn to take center stage. They did not disappoint, as two major storylines developed upon the conclusion of the event.

Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the favorite, repeated as Olympic champion, earning her second straight gold medal in the women's super combined. She came away with the gold in Vancouver in 2010 and did it once more in Sochi.

At first, it did not look like she would be able to repeat, as she sat in fifth place after the downhill portion of the event. However, a fantastic slalom run boosted her to the top, as she recorded a total time of 2 minutes, 34.62 seconds—successfully beating Austria's Nicole Hosp by 0.40 seconds.

This marks the third Olympic gold medal over her illustrious career.

Another noteworthy storyline that came out of the women's super combined was that of American Julia Mancuso's surprising finish. She silenced her doubters by reaching the podium, earning the bronze medal.

Earning more exposure by modeling in different publications before the Olympics, she was more recognized for her looks than her athletic ability. That all changed upon the conclusion of the women's super combined.

Getting off to a very quick start, she posted the fastest time in the downhill portion of the event with a blazing 1:42.68—topping Switzerland's Lara Gut by 0.47 seconds.

Mancuso found a little bit of difficulty in the slalom, posting a time of 52.47.

During an interview with ESPN.com, Mancuso expressed her concern following the slalom portion of the event: "I really thought I was blowing it in slalom. I had a great downhill run and knew there was nothing to lose."

However, her combined efforts afforded her a trip to the podium, besting Tina Maze of Slovenia by 0.10 seconds.


Women's Downhill: An Alpine-First Gold-Medal Tie

Morry Gash/Associated Press

It simply could not have been scripted any better than this. The women's downhill event finished in a tie for the gold medal between Slovenia's Tina Maze and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin. Both athletes posted the exact same time of 1:41.57.

This marked the first time in Olympic Alpine skiing history that an event concluded in such a fashion, according to ESPN.com:

Despite the dramatic finish, these women showed their class by speaking of their respect for each other. Said Gisin of Maze, "I'm sure glad I'm going to share this gold with Tina. She's such a great woman and one of the greatest athletes of our sport."

Maze added, "Maybe just one finger or one hand can change the color of a medal. It's even more interesting because it's not a usual thing. It's something special."

American Julia Mancuso—who did not fare well in the event, finishing in a disappointing eighth place—shared her excitement for the gold-medal winners: "It's really crazy. I'm really happy for both those girls. It's an amazing show. It's actually crazy that it comes down to one-hundredths [of a second] and there is not one-thousandths as a tiebreaker."

This finish was a perfect conclusion to the first three Alpine skiing events that took place so far in Sochi. This sport continues to be one of the most adrenaline-packed spectacles in the 2014 Olympics.

Judging by the way things have started, we can expect to see much more enticing action and dramatic finishes as the Olympic Games continue.