If the US men’s alpine ski team wants to bring home some golden hardware come February, they’ll have some work to do to up their speeds down the mountains.
Eight stops in and only seven more to go until Olympics, the men’s alpine ski team has picked up only two medals (two silvers) in a little over a dozen trips down the slopes so far in the World Cup season.
The two stars of the U.S Men’s team, 2006 Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety and 3-time Olympian Bode Miller (the man many consider the most gifted American skier ever), have yet to live up to their expectations.
Meanwhile, athletes from countries with red and white flags—the Swiss, Austrian, and Canadian teams have dominated the top podium spot.
For a deep team which includes not only Ligety and Miller, but also young up-and-comer Andrew Weibrecht, and veterans Marco Sullivan and Steven Nyman—the team should be posting better results than a few top 10 finishes and two runner-up finishes.
Ligety, not too surprisingly, is the lone American skier to reach the podium thus far in the season, earning the team’s two silver medals. But the successes were far between.
Ligety had a great start to the season, winning the first silver in October at the season-opening giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria—but he then failed to reach the podium again until mid-December with a runner-up finish in the super-G at Val d’Isere.
After getting over stomach flu, Ligety skipped the Dec 18-19 race at Val Gardena, Italy, and didn’t fare too well a few days later at Alta Badia, Italy, coming in seventh in giant slalom and failing to qualify for the slalom run.
Bad luck, bad weather may have contributed to the slow start to the season could be factors—but as the star of the men’s team, Ligety should have been able to overcome the obstacles.
As for Miller?
Yes, Bode's still getting back into shape. Yes, he’s skiing reasonably well for someone who hasn’t been on skies for the better part of a year. Yes, he was only four-tenth of a second off the medal stand at the downhill in Beaver Creek in early December.
But you don’t get a medal for being fourth. With the Olympics only six weeks away—time is running out. Miller’s ankle injury (incurred while playing volleyball) just when he seems to be getting back on track isn’t going to help his fitness. If he’s going to be a serious contender in February, he needs to show more than occasional flashes of brilliance.
Miller skied at Val Gardena with his bum ankle and wound up fifth in the super-G and ninth in the downhill. But he couldn’t keep up the speed—like Ligety, he faltered at Alta Badina.
With a two-time World Cup winner in Miller and an Olympic champion in Ligety, medals for the Men’s team in Vancouver is an expectation, not just a hope.
The men’s circuit takes a break this week and returns to the slopes with a slalom race in Zagreb, Croatia on Jan. 6.
By then, hopefully Ligety, Miller and the rest of the team will have had enough rest and training to find thier way swiftly (and safely) down the slopes of Zagreb and get a speedy start into 2010 and the Vancouver Olympics.