U.S. team's woes on slopes continue
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- The usual suspects occupied the women's super-G podium on another day of warmth and treacherous traction at the Winter Games. Eighteen of the 49 starters skidded or tumbled off course, most as they crested a jump that brought them into the spectators' view at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. The skiers who didn't have quite the right angle found themselves heading right at a gate and wiped out there or on the next turn as course corrections proved tricky.
"Once you land on this pitch, there's absolutely no purchase," said Julia Mancuso, who skied conservatively in the second of two speed events and got the same outcome she did in Wednesday's downhill: eighth overall, this time 1.52 seconds behind winner Anna Fenninger of Austria -- the third consecutive athlete from her country to win the event. Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch took silver to add to her three previous Olympic golds, and another Austrian, Nicole Hosp, finished third.
Mancuso was smiling but subdued as she spoke to reporters, conceding that she "could have been more on the limit, but, in a way, you still want to cross the finish line." Mancuso, who has four medals across three Winter Games, was sapped by the emotion of winning a bronze in super-combined Monday to rebound from a bumpy World Cup season.
"I'm definitely in a different place now," Mancuso said. "If I didn't have that medal and had these two downhill and super-G results, I'd probably be more disappointed, but I'm out here really trying my best and it's tough to have everything come together."
The U.S. team is in a different spot than it would have liked midway through the 10 Alpine events here. Mancuso's somewhat unexpected bronze is the only medal socked away thus far, and, if the lull continues, it can't help but invite comparisons with the Americans' best haul of eight from Vancouver four years ago or the five medals earned at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
"We probably expected a little bit more, to be honest," U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said.
The weather forecast is for continued springlike temperatures. The outlook for the Americans? That obviously changed when Lindsey Vonn's knee buckled a couple of months ago, but the U.S. still had high hopes in the men's downhill, especially given 2010 bronze medalist Bode Miller's recent form, Riml said.
"He tried hard, skied hard and was right there at the [intermediate] split, but unfortunately, it didn't work out all the way to the bottom [of the course]," Riml said. "I'm still very pleased with the way the guys are skiing. Everybody has a lot of confidence."
Riml said he welcomes the fact that the U.S. Alpine skiers have a higher and more difficult standard to meet after their success in Vancouver. Miller and Ted Ligety will take their shots in the men's super-G on Sunday morning -- already rescheduled an hour earlier to 10 a.m. local time to try to avoid the heat of the day - then the team will look to Ligety and 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin for some pick-me-up in the technical events of giant slalom and slalom.
Conditions could play a big role there, as Mancuso noted, with the potential of considerable softening up from the first to the last skier and between morning and afternoon runs.
"I think there's definitely been some disappointments. For sure in the downhill, I wanted to have a better race, and for sure Bode wanted to do better," Mancuso said. "Not being anywhere close to getting a medal and having that day with the super-combined where everything just fell into place, it just takes everything coming together.
"You can believe so much and then you actually have to do it on the day."
Leanne Smith, starting in what turned out to be the precarious position of second skier down Saturday, was the only other U.S. woman to survive the super-G course upright as teammates Stacey Cook and Laurenne Ross were among the DNFs.
Unlike the downhill, the super-G is a one-off in which the course is inspected but there is no training run. Smith said she relayed information up the hill about the pitfalls "urgently," but taking the correct angle in the air still proved elusive.
"Would I guess that that many people would have not finished after me? No. But am I surprised? No?" Smith said.
Shiffrin, who held a news conference Saturday afternoon after arriving in Sochi, said she isn't afraid to plow through sun-warmed snow -- "I'm not planning to have that be an excuse," she said -- or to shoulder even more expectations than she was already carrying in.
"I think part of it for the U.S. is that they're just trying to find the way to get into the mental game, coming off such a great season last year," Shiffrin said. "I watch ski racing with a very critical eye, and I know our team. Sometimes on race day, especially at the Olympics, it's hard for the best skier or the fastest skier to actually win. ... It's been a learning lesson for me that, no matter how good you are, you can't take your foot off the gas."