U.S. Alpine team has disappointedPosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 6:04 PM
Hey, props to Vonn. A year ago, he didn't even make the U.S. team for the world championships. At an age when many skiers would take failure as a hint that their window has closed, Vonn dropped back to Nor-Am races, scrapped his way onto the Olympic team and nailed a top-10 on the biggest stage in the world. (And he's got another shot this week in the giant slalom.)
The bigger issue is this: With half the Olympic alpine program finished, Vonn's surprise ninth is damn near the biggest thing the U.S. Ski Team has had to celebrate.
Consider: Men's downhill and Super G specialist Daron Rahlves skied too aggressively in the DH and finished a crushing 16th. Saturday he skied too passively in the Super G and finished eighth, just one place in front of Vonn. Rahlves' Lake Tahoe buddy, Marco Sullivan, beat him in the downhill.
Consider 2: Two-time Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street was victimized by slow snow and, just maybe, the passage of time and too many serious injuries, finishing 16th in the downhill. The best U.S. finishers were Jonna Mendes in 11th and Kirsten Clark in 12th.
Consider 3: Caroline Lalive, thought to be a solid medal possibility in the Alpine combined, crashed in the very first slalom run and dropped out. (17-year-old Lindsay Kildow's sixth place in that same race was a pleasant surprise.)
U.S. ski racers have won one medal: Bode Miller's sensational silver in the men's combined, behind double gold medalist Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway.
Bill Marolt, the CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, predicted that USSA would win 10 medals in Salt Lake City. That was big talk, but it might happen; the U.S. already has eight. However, there's a catch: Seven of them have come in snowboarding or moguls. So the big picture looks cool, but the Alpine side is struggling.
What's left? Miller is the gold-medal favorite in the slalom, but slalom is a sketchy event. People fall down. He also is among the favorites in the giant slalom, where he will meet Aamodt and Stephan Eberharter. Tough company. And even this is good new/bad news for USSA: Few racers have resisted the organization's coaching more vigilantly than Miller.
Kristina Koznick will be a medal favorite in the women's slalom. This thrills USSA. Two years ago Koznick left the U.S. Ski Team to train independently, and she consistently has beaten all U.S. technical racers since. When asked about Koznick earlier this winter, Marolt barely grumbled.
What if Miller falls or Koznick fails? Hey, there's always aerials.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is in Utah covering the Olympic Alpine skiing competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.