2014 Winter Olympics logo2014 Winter Olympics

Even Sans Lindsey Vonn, U.S. Alpine Team Has 5 Sochi Medals and Hope for 2018

Mikaela Shiffrin.
Mikaela Shiffrin.Christophe Ena/Associated Press
Diane PucinOlympics Lead WriterFebruary 22, 2014

Ted Ligety stumbled through the slalom as if he was blindfolded on Saturday, closing out the U.S. Alpine team's Sochi experience on a down note.

But considering that before the Games began, the squad lost arguably the world's best female skier, Lindsey Vonn, to injury, this was an overall strong Olympics for U.S. skiing, particularly in comparison to how Americans performed in some of the other traditional Winter Olympics sports.

Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller each won bronze. For Miller, it was likely a farewell medal, and the emotions he showed while speaking of his late brother Chelone left us with totally different feelings about the 36-year-old.

"It's tough to have my last race here look like that, with the bronze," he told reporters in Sochi. "But I feel really good about where I am. I feel like I did my best. I came out with a medal, so I'm happy." 

When he was Turin's party boy in 2006, Miller was the subject mostly of criticism. Now he leaves the sport worthy of admiration and sympathy.

Ted Ligety.
Ted Ligety.David Goldman/Associated Press/Associated Press

Ligety brings home gold in the giant slalom, and 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin earned a gold medal in slalom as the youngest winner ever at the Olympics in that event. 

Andrew Weibrecht was a name we hadn't heard much of, but he collected silver in the men's super-G.

So just imagine if Vonn had been healthy and skiing in the dominant way she had been before she tore up her knee a year ago.

The U.S. finished with eight Alpine medals four years ago in Vancouver, and two of them belonged to Vonn who, before her knee surgery, was expected to win at least two more in Sochi and maybe three.

As it was, the U.S. team ended up with five overall in these Games. 

With that haul, the Alpine team stands out as the best that the U.S. had to offer in traditional sports.

The U.S. cleaned up in all those new, crazy slope and board sports, but in the ones that those of us over a certain age are used to—speedskating, figure skating, hockey, cross-country skiing—there wasn't much celebrating. 

Four years from now, it could be better. Vonn should be healthy. She told NBC host Matt Lauer that she plans to ski in four years:

After making the decision not to compete in Sochi, I've actually committed myself to racing through to the next Olympics. I'm very motivated. I have a lot to accomplish still, and I'm going to take my time. I felt a little bit rushed last time, trying to be back and ready for Sochi, but I'm not going to probably ski until October. I'm going to be racing next year and the year after that and the year after that. 

With or without Vonn, the U.S. could have a good base of Alpine skiers just based on who medaled in Sochi. Yes, Miller will be gone, but Ligety and Mancuso are only 29 years old, and Weibrecht is 28.

And then there's Shiffrin.

"So right now I'm dreaming of the next Olympics, winning five gold medals," she told reporters in Sochi. "Which sounds really crazy. Sorry I just admitted that to you all." 

 

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered eight Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.

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