August 22, 2014

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2014 Winter Olympics: U.S. skiing still going downhill as Bode Miller and Ted Ligety struggle in super combined

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — America’s grip on the men’s super combined ski race ended in the mush Friday at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.

Reigning Olympic champion Bode Miller and 2006 gold medalist Ted Ligety couldn’t find the magic on a bumpy course that left many of the world’s top skiers flailing.

It allowed unheralded Sando Viletta of Switzerland to steal the gold medal while slalom expert Ivica Kostelic of Croatia became the first alpine skier to win four Olympic silver medals—and he did it on a course set by his father, Ante Kostelic.

Meanwhile Miller was sixth and Ligety, the current world champion in the combined event, struggled with the lower portion of the slalom run to finish 12th. Olympic newcomer Jared Goldberg had a solid run to edge Ligety and take 11th.

Small victories are about all the American alpine team can celebrate midway through the Sochi Games. The men and women have disappointed with Julia Mancuso earning the only medal—a bronze—thus far.

“As a team, we skied defensive and we’re looking forward to moving forward and attacking,” U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick said.

Ligety, 29, just didn’t go hard enough in the slalom after finishing 18th in the downhill portion of the two-run race.

“I could have gone way, way harder,” he said. “I’d much rather be blown out being on the line of being too fast than do what I did today.”

Ligety, who won three races at the 2013 World Championships, respected the course too much after inspecting it before he left the gate.

“I didn’t think it would take a run that was 100 percent to come down and get a medal,” he said.

Miller offered excuses after finishing eighth in the men’s downhill earlier this week. But the most decorated U.S. alpine Olympic skier with five medals looked no farther than himself Friday.

He chastised himself after the downhill, which was moved up an hour to avoid the late-morning sun. The poor run cost him too much time to make up in the slalom, an event he hasn’t raced much in recent years.

“I don’t have enough confidence in my slalom to go out and just pin it,” he said. “I tried anyway ’cause that’s what I had to do to be on the podium. I just made a lot of little errors. The errors were really weird, too.”

Miller, 36, described the time-eating mistakes as invisible while watching the event.

“But when you’re skiing, you feel them,” he said. “The snow was really responsive so the skis just pull back underneath you. You feel your speed go.”

And with it, any chance of revitalizing America’s ski prowess.

Miller’s combined time of 2 minutes 46.60 seconds was 1.40 seconds behind Viletta, who became the first Swiss man to win the super combined.

Not that it provided any solace, but Miller earned his ninth top-10 Olympic placing — tying him with Lasse Kjus of Norway for second in history. The record of 13 is held by Norwegian great Kjetil Andre Aamodt.

America’s ski stars focused on what they did wrong Friday in terrible conditions. The T-shirt weather that has turned Sochi into a place for spring break more than the Winter Olympics.

Miller said he and Ligety guarded the front of their skis too much.

“You just feel your speed, it’s a pretty brutal feeling,” Miller said. “I knew half way down I had to start taking risks but I couldn’t really get the rhythm.”

Viletta, 28, had no problems finding his.

“It was a perfect run for me,” he said of the slalom.

Bronze medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy also was celebratory after earning his second medal of the Sochi Games. He finished second in the men’s downhill and is running laps around the U.S. team in the Caucasus Mountain.