February 20, 2006
SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Bob Baum)—Not since Picabo Street eked out gold at the 1998 Nagano Games has an American woman won an Olympic medal in Alpine skiing. The drought is not showing any signs of ending in the Italian Alps.
With the U.S. team's best skier aching from a nasty fall, the Americans have had to settle for more grit than gold at the Olympics, and have less than a week to turn things around.
"We have to go very positive into the second week, U.S. women's coach Patrick Riml insisted, "and evaluate the Olympics after that.
In the first three Alpine events at these games _ the downhill, combined and Monday's super-G _ the American women haven't even able to top their best finish four years ago at Salt Lake City, when a then-17-year-old Lindsey Kildow came in sixth in the combined.
Kildow skied into the Turin Olympics all smiles and speed, poised to become the ``next Picabo,'' only to crash in a downhill training run a week ago, a spill so awful that serious injuries seemed inevitable. She escaped with only a bruised hip and a sore back, but hasn't been able to cap her amazing comeback with anything better than seventh place in Monday's super-G.
The U.S. women have had more success than the American men in Olympic Alpine competition _ 19 medals, seven of them gold, compared to 11 medals and four gold for the men.
But most of the women's success was decades ago. In the five Olympics beginning with the 1988 Calgary Games, U.S. women won five medals _ two each by Street and Diann Roffe and one by Hilary Lindh. All three have long since retired.
Not that the U.S. team hasn't been able to win at all.
Riml, an Austrian, took over the U.S. women's program in 2004 and his skiers have regularly stepped onto the podium this World Cup season. Kildow has three World Cup downhill triumphs, two this season, and is ranked second to Olympic downhill gold medalist Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria.
Julia Mancuso, like Kildow just 21, became the first woman since Street in 1996 to win two medals at the world championships, earning bronze in the super-G and giant slalom last year. She had three top-three finishes in the six World Cup races leading up to the Olympics, but was seventh in the downhill and ninth in the combined in these games.
The Olympics, Riml acknowledged, can overwhelm young skiers.[pagebreak]"We try to treat it the same as a World Cup race, he said, "but the difference is the stuff that goes on the side. There are distractions here. That makes a big difference.
With the U.S. men also struggling, the American goal of eight medals is far out of reach. What was supposed to be the most powerful U.S. Alpine team in years entered the final week of competition with one medal in five events _ Ted Ligety's surprise gold in the combined. On Monday, the U.S. team went 0-for-2, with the men missing a medal in the giant slalom.
Kristina Koznick, who plans to race in the slalom this week despite a serious knee injury, acknowledged the team has not lived up to its promise.
"It's the first time in maybe 10 years that we've had such expectations, Koznick said. "It's frustrating and I know I'm not the only one who is frustrated. But there is still more events, and we'll just keep pushing.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press