KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – At the midway point of the Olympics in Alpine skiing, the American contingent is struggling to duplicate its sizzling output from four years ago in Vancouver, when every day seemed to bring a new medal. Saturday, another day, another event, another strikeout, as four-time medal winner Julia Mancuso could do no better than eighth in the women’s super-G.
Austria’s Anna Fenninger won the race over a tricky course that claimed nearly half the field, finishing in 1 minute 25.52 seconds, 0.55 faster than Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who added a silver to the gold she won in super combined.
And with Mancuso more than a second-and-a-half back of the lead, and nine-tenths of a second behind bronze medal winner Nicole Hosp of Austria, her bronze in the super combined remains the only medal for the U.S. Alpine team. After five events in Vancouver, the U.S. had seven medals.
“I think there’s definitely some disappointments,” Mancuso said. “Like for sure the downhill, I wanted to have a better a race, and Bode [Miller] for sure wanted to do better. But it’s hard. There’s really only three spots where you can get a medal, and there’s tons of skiers out here who can really step it up and have their best races.”
There are, now, five events remaining, and the Americans likely will be favored to win medals only in two of them – Ted Ligety in Wednesday’s men’s giant slalom and Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old who could medal in Friday’s women’s slalom.
The men’s super-G is Sunday, and Andrew Weibrecht took a surprising bronze behind Miller’s silver four years ago. But Weibrecht hasn’t been back on a World Cup podium in any discipline since. Miller is coming off a second-place finish in the most recent World Cup super-G, but after outstanding downhill training here, he has failed to deliver on race day, finishing eighth in the downhill and sixth in the super combined.
Shiffrin has finished on the podium in two out of her four World Cup giant slaloms this year, and she could be a contender on Tuesday in that event. But that also could be a lot to ask for an 18-year-old in her first Olympics.
“You can believe so much,” Mancuso said, “and then you actually have to do it on the day.”
That was difficult Saturday. Eight out of the first 11 racers failed to even finish the course, which claimed some near the top and others over a final jump that brought the racers into view of the crowd. American Laurenne Ross fell out eight gates from the finish, while teammate Stacey Cook took a hard spill near the top of the course, suffering only some bumps and bruises despite crashing through a gate, according to a ski team spokesman.
Leanne Smith was the only other American finisher, placing 18th after skiing second.
“Would I have guessed that that many people would have not finished after me? Not really,” Smith said. “But am I surprised? Not at all.”
The surprising part: With five of 10 races still to go, the U.S. has just one medal.