The U.S. Alpine skiing team has fared rather well at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but there are still three events remaining in the sport in Sochi, Russia. With it come at least two legitimate chances for the Americans to add to their overall medal count and land some athletes on the podium.
All of the competitions are slalom-specific, and the first two feature Ted Ligety in the men's giant slalom and Mikaela Shiffrin in the women's slalom. They offer the best chance for the USA to medal in these events, while David Chodounsky is a bit of a long shot in the men's regular slalom event.
Let's take a closer look at these athletes and why they represent the best hope for the U.S. to add more hardware to an already impressive collection at this year's Winter Games.
Men's Giant Slalom: Ted Ligety
So the Olympics haven't gone quite as Ligety would have hoped thus far.
In two events, he's not cracked the top 10—much less threatened for the podium. He came in 12th in the super combined and 14th in the super-G final.
Those previous letdowns were disappointing since Ligety won world championships in 2013 in both the super combined and super-G. Giant slalom is his true expertise, though, as he's won world championships in 2011 and 2013—and he finished third in 2009.
Ligety has fallen far short of all expectations thus far, so Wednesday offers a chance for redemption. Nothing less than the best will do, either. David Leon Moore of USA Today reported what Ligety had to say about his frame of mind:
Every event is totally different. It's not like those (results) matter that much. I'm just going to push hard on my race on Wednesday. I know where my skiing can be. This season, I've had a lot of ups and downs in other races and results but still been able to put together really fast runs in giant slalom.
Even his comments hint that the giant slalom is Ligety's best shot at Olympic gold, and he'll be the No. 1 favorite despite his aforementioned struggles in Sochi. If he comes up short yet again, Ligety will have trouble living that down, even with an otherwise impressive legacy.
The 29-year-old veteran has one Olympic gold from 2006 to his credit, so he's shown the capability to get it done in the past. Now he must rise to the occasion, and if Ligety skis as he has at times this past season, he will at least be a medalist.
Women's Slalom: Mikaela Shiffrin
Considering the circumstances and the caliber of competition Shiffrin was up against in Tuesday's giant slalom, she fared extremely well, placing fifth in her Olympic debut.
Shiffrin has won seven World Cup races and was undaunted in her first race of the Sochi Games despite poor conditions—heavy rain and the resultant difficult snow to navigate. The 18-year-old phenom now has some positivity to build on heading into her second event.
The NBC Olympics' official Twitter account gave a nice rundown of all the milestones Shiffrin has reached in her young career:
.@MikaelaShiffrin: Joined World Cup circuit at age 15, made first podium at 16, won a world championship at 17, makes Olympic debut at 18.— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 19, 2014
Who is more likely to challenge for a gold medal?
As ESPN's Wayne Drehs alludes to in his report of Shiffrin's first event, she is the defending world champion in the women's slalom and has an even better chance at seizing a medal—and perhaps even winning.
Gold isn't out of the question, and her failure to reach the podium on Tuesday should only fuel the fire for Shiffrin as she prepares for her true competition of expertise. Not winning a medal in her debut actually may have been a blessing in disguise, too.
"This sets her up better," said her father Jeff Shiffrin, per Drehs. "There are no distractions."
There may have been an inevitable letdown for someone so young and talented as Shiffrin if she had the satisfaction of a medal in tow.
Now Shiffrin has plenty to prove in an event where more is expected from her. Shiffrin seemed prepared well enough even in adverse conditions in her first taste of the Olympic stage, and now she is poised to at least crack the top three on Friday.
Men's Slalom: David Chodounsky
This is the least likely candidate for gold, but perhaps prior success from Ligety and Shiffrin will inspire Chodounsky to do unexpectedly well.
Chodounsky finished eighth in a recent World Cup event in Adelboden, Switzerland, and no other Americans placed in the top 20. Those results provide a glimpse into the long odds the USA is facing in the men's slalom, just to be realistic.
But after that race, at least the 29-year-old Chodounsky was confident in his ability to start competing more often for the podium—even if that is a little ambitious for a goal in Sochi.
"Anytime you get points, it’s a good day," said Chodounsky, per the Idaho Mountain Express' Jeff Cordes. "I feel I’m ready to consistently be challenging for the podium. It was tough and it was fast on the steepest pitch on the tour."
Austria's Marcel Hirscher is the world champion in the men's slalom and should be favored to win along with Felix Neureuther of Germany, who has made it to the podium 21 times in World Cup competition. That's the type of disparity Chodounsky is dealing with.
Anything can happen in the Winter Olympics, though, and Chodounsky is still striving to improve and is on the uptick as he prepares to go out and shock the world with his best effort to steal a medal from his favored peers.