Facing sky-high expectations to conquer the Sochi slopes like they did in Vancouver, the U.S. Alpine skiing team has hit a rough patch during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Four years ago, the U.S. earned a record eight medals, claiming gold on the strength of Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn. This time around, the Americans have slumped out of the gate, notching one bronze through the first five medal events.
That changed on Sunday morning, when Miller and Andrew Weibrecht found the podium in the men's super-G. Weibrecht beat out his teammate for silver while Miller settled for the bronze, reversing their finishes from the 2010 result.
This is Miller's sixth Olympic medal, but the 36-year-old did not undersell the significance of upping his Olympic tally.
"If it's not the most important race of my life, it's right there with it," Miller told USA Today Sports' David Leon Moore. "I had a lot to show today."
Boasting two top finishers in the super-G could be just what the U.S. team needed to get back on track during the latter portion of the Sochi Games. With four events remaining, there's still plenty of time to salvage a disappointing start.
|2014 Winter Olympics Alpine Skiing Schedule|
|Date||Event||Time (ET)||TV (tape delay)|
|Feb. 18||Ladies' Giant Slalom||2 a.m.||NBC|
|Feb. 19||Men's Giant Slalom||2 a.m.||NBC|
|Feb. 21||Ladies' Slalom||7:45 a.m.||NBC|
|Feb. 22||Men's Slalom||7:45 a.m.||NBC|
In order for the U.S. men to maintain their momentum through the final two events, Ted Ligety must dust off a slow start.
Miller does not excel in the slalom or giant slalom, so the speedster is not a strong contender to add another medal to his indelible legacy. Weibrecht has now shined in the super-G during the past two Winter Games, but he has not performed as well elsewhere.
Big things were expected from Ligety coming into the 2014 Winter Olympics, but the 29-year-old has not delivered. Not only has he failed to medal, but he has not yet secured a top-10 finish in any event.
The super combined champion in the 2006 Turin Games entered the event's 2014 iteration as a favorite, but he fell flat with a 12th place finish. He bluntly expressed his frustration in a post-event interview on NBC (via Yahoo! Sports' Graham Watson):
Yeah, really it’s a choke to put it simply. I saw the guys going out, and I could have easily skied a lot better and a lot harder. It was actually an easy course set, easy snow to push on, and I just skied way too conservatively. It’s a lesson learned and move on. It’s definitely a bummer, but that’s ski racing sometimes.
After placing 14th in the super-G, his frustrations could be mounting in Sochi, but a strong showing in the giant slalom would redeem his Olympic performance.
Time would readily forget his early struggles if he dug down and erased his past missteps with one huge effort in his strongest event. Despite his difficulties in Sochi, Ligety remains the U.S. men's best hope of snatching another medal.
Vonn's absence put a dent in the U.S. women's quest to match their four medals from 2010. Vancouver's breakout performer won the team's lone gold medal as well as a bronze, but another two-time medal winner from 2010 is still on the prowl in Sochi.
Julia Mancuso put herself in a strong position to win the super combined; she started off the two-pronged event with a leading time of 1:42.68 during the downhill portion. Despite entering the slalom event with a near one-second edge, she finished with bronze.
Bronze isn't gold, but the U.S. Olympic team's official Twitter page noted that she became the first U.S. skier to medal in three different events, a feat Miller also later accomplished with his super-G medal.
While the giant slalom is not her specialty, she surprisingly won the gold in 2006. Without many other viable contenders, the U.S. team would love to see her combat that competition again.
Mancuso, 29, admitted to CBS News' Stephen Smith that she does not know if she'll compete again in four years. Yet she still maintains a jovial outlook on the Olympics, which seems to work well for her on the grand spotlight.
"I'm definitely surprised that I'm sitting here now … and I'm doing the same thing I did as a kid—dreaming about the Olympics, she said. "I didn’t know I'd be doing it for so long and I still feel like a kid."
Winning her fifth medal would be a great way to go out.