No pressure, U.S. skiers, but you’re coming off the nation’s best performance in Olympic history four years ago at Vancover without your top gun on the women’s side and a 36-year-old on the men’s side who’s trying to grab the gusto one last time.
No problem, right? Certainly expectations aren’t as great for the U.S. as they were in 2010, but this U.S. team might have a good mix of veterans and emerging standouts who could reach the podium stand when the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia.
Although Lindsey Vonn, the first U.S. woman to win Olympic gold in the downhill, will be stateside tending to her surgically repaired knee, and Bode Miller, who will become the oldest American to participate in alpine skiing when the Olympics begin, is trying to race Father Time, all isn’t lost. The U.S. has medal possibilities when the Olympic downhill begins Feb. 9 with the men’s race.
Despite his age, Miller is a legitimate threat in the downhill. He recently was second in a super-G World Cup race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, a day after finishing third in a downhill. Miller appears to have regained the form that helped him earn a gold, silver and bronze medal in Vancouver.
Although he won’t be the favorite for the downhill, that distinction will go to Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, one of Miller’s main threats, Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, won’t compete. Reichelt, who won that downhill in Kitzbuehel, underwent surgery for a herniated disc two days after winning.
So Svindal, who won downhill silver four years ago, will be favorite with Miller, 2010 downhill gold-medal winner Didier Defago of Switzerland, Patrick Kueng of Switzerland, Benjamin Thomsen and Erik Guay of Canada and Adrien Theaux of France as names to remember.
On the women’s side, Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook are the top downhill hopes for the U.S. Both are veteran Olympic performers with Mancuso earning a silver in the downhill to Vonn four years ago. However, it has been a disappointing season for Mancuso although she did recently post her first three top-10 finishes in Cortina, Italy. Cook took back-to-back fifth-place finishes at the same venue.
Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch is the favorite. She was the only woman at Vancouver to leave with two gold medals.