Feb 24, 2014 12:04 AM by Greg Smith
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Slalom is a fickle event. Ted Ligety said so himself. With tight gates set on a steep hill covered in soft snow, it can be even more fickle as guys charge down the hill in the hunt for gold.
Under the lights at Rosa Khutor, the men's slalom turned into a race of attrition. Ligety was not immune, and after scoring the sixth-fastest first run, just over a tenth of a second from the medals, he blew out the second run. Ante Kostelic, the Croatian coach, set the course, and Ligety blamed him in part for the mass wasting of the men's field. Only 45 of 117 starters finished the race.
"The snow's really bad, and Ante set a really difficult, typical Ante course which is borderline unsportsmanlike on these kind of hills," said Ligety. "That's how it goes. Everybody had to ski it. But not all the best guys had a chance to make it down unfortunately."
David Chodounsky hooked a tip in the first run and also blew out.
But the U.S. alpine ski team did have one bright spot in the dark night. Despite falling on his hip second run, Nolan Kasper had his best Olympic finish with 13th. In fact, it was the Vermonter's best finish on the world stage in two years. Since competing in the Vancouver Games, then taking second in a world cup a year later, he has had two hip surgeries and one knee surgery.
"Nolan has missed 250 days of skiing in the past 2½ years," said men's head coach Sasha Rearick. "That's a lot of training days. For him to come out here and do what he did today, hats off to him."
Ted Ligety, gold, giant slalom, Feb. 19, 2014
Julia Mancuso, bronze, super combined, Feb. 10, 2014
Andrew Weibrecht (far left) and Bode Miller (far right), silver and bronze, super-G, Feb. 16, 2014
Mikaela Shiffrin, gold, slalom, Feb. 21, 2014
Although the U.S. men were not favored to medal in slalom, it was an anticlimactic end to a good Olympic run for the American alpine ski team in Sochi, especially in the final 10 days of the Games.
"It was a rough start," said U.S. alpine director Patrick Riml, referring to the men's and women's downhill where the Americans missed the medals. "That our athletes were able to deliver the last couple races was impressive. I'm very proud of the athletes and very proud of the staff. Everybody stayed calm and did their job and got the athletes ready for race day. I'm very pleased."
Of the United States' 27 Olympic medals earned to date, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association athletes won 17, including eight of the nine total gold medals - a new high for USSA. The previous best was six in Vancouver.
Alpine skiers won five medals, tying their second-best performance at the Sarajevo 1984 Olympic Winter Games. Other alpine skiing highlights included:
Bode Miller winning his sixth Olympic medal. His bronze in super-G put him second on the all-time U.S. winter Olympians medal-winning list (Apolo Ohno leads with eight) and second on the all-time skiing list (Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway leads with eight). He also became the oldest alpine skier to stand on an Olympic podium.
Julia Mancuso claiming her fourth Olympic medal, the most won by a U.S. woman skier or snowboarder, when she took the bronze in super combined.
Mikaela Shiffrin, at age 18, becoming the youngest women's slalom Olympic champion in history.
"We've done great as a team," said Ligety, who overcame huge pressure to win gold in giant slalom. "Bode got a medal. Andrew Weibrecht got on the podium for the first time since Vancouver, so that's pretty awesome. Julia was able to come out of nowhere, in a sense, in the combined. Then Mikaela being a huge favorite in the slalom, to come through and win like she did was super impressive. I think as a team we've been very impressive."
Compared to the medal haul in Vancouver, where the U.S. alpine team won eight, some might have thought that Sochi was a disappointment. But U.S. alpine director Patrick Riml pointed out that the Vancouver Games were very unusual.
"To win that many medals, it was an amazing performance from the whole team," he said. In Vancouver, Miller won three, Lindsey Vonn and Mancuso two apiece, and Weibrecht one.
Without Vonn competing in the Sochi Games, five medals was a more realistic number. It's the same number that U.S. skiers won at the FIS World Championships last February after Vonn injured her knee in the super-G, and three of those medals belong to Ligety.
Riml was also encouraged by the performances of up-and-coming skiers Travis Ganong and Jared Goldberg. Ganong, 25, finished fifth in the men's downhill - his best result ever in international competition. Goldberg, 22, was 11th in super combined and 19th in giant slalom.
"I'm very pleased with how the whole team performed," Riml concluded. "It was a great Olympics for us."