US ski team leans on superstars for medals ahead of Olympics
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (AP) Dressed as comic book superheroes, American skiers were often merely mortal at the last world championships before the 2018 Olympics.
A tally of three medals – one of each color, all won by female superstars – surely did not rise above expectations from an 11-event program that ended Sunday in the sun-soaked Swiss Alps.
Still, each medal performance was impressive and seems repeatable at the Pyeongchang Winter Games next February.
Mikaela Shiffrin wore her Captain Marvel costume to a huge win in slalom, and a satisfying silver in giant slalom.
Lindsey Vonn took home bronze in downhill that was deserved after a tough 12 months of injuries and fighting for race fitness.
”I think that’s something to be pretty proud of,” said the 32-year-old downhill great, who last won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She missed the Sochi Olympics through injury.
”I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said.
Vonn and teammate Laurenne Ross chipped in with fifth-place finishes in St. Moritz. Results fell away after that. No other top-10s, and none from the men in Captain America suits.
”A lot of lessons, a lot of details we’ve got to work out for finding those big performances,” men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said of championships that he called ”a learning experience.”
One lesson, hard to apply in a risky sport, was to avoid losing team leaders to season-ending surgery.
The Americans had fair warning that five-time world champion Ted Ligety would not seek a fourth straight giant slalom title due to persistent back problems.
A tougher blow was losing Steven Nyman, the most consistent downhiller, 10 days before the opening ceremony. Nyman crashed hard in a World Cup race in Germany that was treacherous, though won by teammate Travis Ganong.
”Nyman is such a charismatic individual,” Rearick said. ”He’s a critical success factor to the team. Losing him right before the championships was a challenge.”
Rearick said that was ”a wake-up call” to coaches and skiers, including some who peaked in training ahead of their medal events.
”You have to be adaptable and we missed that,” Rearick acknowledged.
There were positives: David Chodounsky’s 11th in giant slalom was a career-best result in the discipline, and Tommy Biesemeyer raced in downhill days after dislocating a shoulder when set for a fast time in super-G.
”We’re moving in a good direction,” said Tommy Ford, who went out early in giant slalom. “Our runs are getting more and more consistent, and the mistakes are smaller and smaller.”
Yet the only time an American ranked within a second of a men’s gold medalist was Bryce Bennett’s 11th in combined.
Other teams underachieved, including Italy’s speed racers and France. Norway’s bad luck does not show sitting in the medal table below the U.S. which tied with a happy Canadian team.
Austria and Switzerland, however, found medals from racers who had never stood on a World Cup podium.
There is reason to hope for the U.S. team. At the 2009 worlds, it also won three medals – two golds for Vonn, and a bronze for Ligety – which did not bode well for the Olympics.
It turned out fine in Vancouver with a U.S. record eight-medal tally.
A rejuvenated Bode Miller keyed that success and he could return next season from a three-year World Cup break.
Miller will be 40, but who would deny him more Olympic glory?
”I’m all for it,” said Rearick. ”He’s still got speed and it’s an easy hill in Korea. Why not? But we have to put the effort in, day-in, day-out, starting real soon.”
That is Vonn’s plan for what will surely be her last Olympics.
”I really want to have a healthy season,” she said in St. Moritz. ”It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”