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Commentary: Can Shiffrin, Ligety salvage respect for U.S. Olympic alpine skiers?

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After a promising start with Lake Tahoe’s Julia Mancuso earning a surprising bronze in women’s combined, U.S. Alpine skiers were shutout over the next four days until Andrew Weibrecht took a silver in the super-G and heralded Bode Miller tied for the bronze.

It was certainly a relief for the entire U.S. team, which had underperformed to date at the Sochi Olympics. There were expectations that hadn’t been met.

Miller was looking like a favorite to earn a downhill medal after registering the fastest times in training runs at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Yet Miller placed a disappointing 8th in downhill and followed up with a 6th in super-combined at the Sochi.

After Mancuso’s promising start to the Olympics, the pride of Squaw Valley was favored to be among the medal contenders in the downhill. Yet Mancuso skied rather conservatively in an Alpine event that demands a more attacking style and finished 8th in the women’s downhill.

The warmer than expected temperatures has created problems in all the snow venues, where the soft snow has left many skiers wondering when to attack and when to back off.

Those difficult conditions were prevalent when Mancuso took another shot at a medal in the super-G on Saturday. Again, she failed to aggressive ski the run and it cost her. Mancuso wound up a disappointing 8th on a tricky and dangerous course that was claiming skiers.

U.S. teammate Leanne Smith of New Hampshire was 18th and Laurenne Ross of Bend, Oregon didn’t finish the event.

The less-than-dazzling performances haven’t been exclusive to Miller and Mancuso, the two biggest names on this year’s U.S. team that went to Sochi. Combined they have 10 medals, including six from Miller, who is probably in his last Winter Olympics at age 36.

High expectations for Ligety
Expected to be among the U.S. medal winners at Sochi was American Ted Ligety. Yet he took 14th in the super-G and also didn’t fare well in the super combined, finishing 8th.

Ligety has a chance at redemption in the giant slalom on Wednesday and regards himself as one of the favorites.

“It’s been a little disappointing and frustrating so far but every event is different,” Ligety said. “I’m just going to push hard on the race (Wednesday) and I know where my skiing can be. In this season I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but still put together some really fast results on the giant slaloms so I don’t think my results so far will have much effect on the results to come in the giant slalom.”

Can U.S. teen MikaelaShiffrin deliver?

Mikaela Shiffrin could certainly help change the fate of the U.S. Alpine team. She could be draped in a medal after Tuesday’s giant slalom and has a chance for another medal three days later in the slalom, her final appearance in the Sochi Olympics.
“I am really psyched to race. I’ve been here before, in my head, for sure,” Shiffrin said. “So to everybody, it’s my first Olympics, but to me it’s my thousandth.”
After a slow start, the U.S. Alpine team got a big boast with medals from Miller and Weibrecht. With strong appearances by Ligety and Shiffrin this could still be a memorable Winter Olympics for the Americans.