Bode Miller and Ted Ligety's Failures Raise Future Concerns for Sochi Games

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

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After four years of hard work and a lifetime of dedication, time is running out for Bode Miller and Ted Ligety to make an impact in Sochi.

On Friday, the last two Olympic champions in the super combined failed to even make the podium. 

Now, what was poised to be a successful Olympics for the American Alpine skiing stars is in danger of turning into an undeniable disappointment. 

Miller is 36 years old and surely competing in his final Olympics. On the first Monday of the Games, he came in eighth place in the downhill despite leading two of the three training runs. When the conditions turned from overcast and icy to sunny and slushy, his skiing lost the aggressiveness that has made him a champion.

He finished a similarly dispiriting sixth in the super combined on Friday and was quick to tweet about his disappointment.

Ligety, who grew up idolizing Miller, made his Sochi debut in the super combined. He was favored by some to win the gold, and by most to at least make the medal stand. Instead, the 29-year-old finished 12th. 

Both will have other chances to make the podium. They're both contenders in the super-G on Sunday and Ligety is a favorite in the giant slalom, but this is not the start to the Games that either had imagined.

Miller after his super combined performance.
Miller after his super combined performance.Gero Breloer/Associated Press

As veterans of sport, Miller and Ligety are both known as much for their differences as they are for their mutual successes. 

Miller is the most successful U.S. male Alpine skier in history, but despite all of his hardware, he is perhaps best-known for his failures and off-slope antics. 

Now in his fifth Olympics, Miller has already lived through a few different lifetimes on the snow. In 2002, he was the leader of the team and became famous not just for his two silver medals, but for missing a gate in the slalom and hiking back up the hill to go around it and finish the race.

In 2006 in Torino, he was the poster boy for the Games, but the hype and pressure got to him and he went home without a medal. His disappointing skis combined with his nonchalance and public love of partying made him a lightning rod for criticism.

Miller celebrating his gold in Vancouver.
Miller celebrating his gold in Vancouver.Clive Rose/Getty Images

In 2010, however, Miller was a redemption tale. He won three medals—a gold, silver and bronze—in Vancouver to become the most decorated American Alpine skier in Olympic history.

It's been a rough few years for Miller, but he's in Sochi trying to go out on top. Since the highs of Vancouver, Miller has endured the death of his younger brother, a bitter and public custody battle with an ex, his wife's miscarriage and an intensive knee surgery that kept him off the slopes for the entire 2012-13 season. 

Miller fought through it all and came back this season with gusto, though, racing his way straight into medal contention before the Games. After all of that, to leave without a medal would be devastating.

Ligety, meanwhile, has always gotten the short end of the publicity stick as Miller's teammate. Much shier and more cautious in the press and the slopes than the brash Miller, Ligety has risen to great heights with his technical proficiency and dedication to the sport.

Ligety showing his frustration.
Ligety showing his frustration.Gero Breloer/Associated Press/Associated Press

He has 22 World Cup victories and is perhaps best-known for his 2006 gold in the Torino super combined—his only Olympic medal. Ligety has been on fire in World Cup races over the past couple of years.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, he was hyped to lead the Alpine team in Sochi and perhaps have a record-breaking medal haul. 

After his dispiriting debut, however, The Associated Press reports that Ligety admitted to the press that he simply, well, choked.

The snow was a lot better than I thought it would be and the course-set was a lot easier than I thought it would be and I just skied conservatively. To put it simply, I choked — for sure. That's disappointing.

From the Alpine slopes to the speedskating track, disappointment has been a theme during this Olympics for the Americans that were expected to dominate. So far in Alpine, only Julia Mancuso has come away with a medal—a bronze in the women's super combined.

Both Miller and Ligety certainly have the talent to turn around their fortunes and finish Sochi on the podium, but doubts have arisen after their lackluster opening races. 

Suddenly, the decorated stars are racing against both their competitors and the calendar to see if they can add to Team USA's medal count before it's too late.