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Freakishly fast and irresistibly likeable Ted Ligety may be the clear favorite in GS, with a great shot at super combined gold as well.
And fresh-faced world beater Mikaela Shiffrin, at age 18, may be untouchable in slalom, an event she has utterly dominated for the past year (while making big strides in GS).
And feisty, fearless Julia Mancuso may well rise to the occasion as she so often has in big events, snagging one of the shinier medals in GS or super G or even downhill.
And American freestylers may well dominate in the two new events—slopestyle and halfpipe—with moguls champ Hannah Kearney repeating as the best of the Olympic bumpers.
But…the brightest star of these of these Olympic games, and potentially one of the greatest Olympic stories ever told, might—just might—be American ski racing’s favorite bad boy, Bode.
America won’t have long to wait to find out whether the supremely gifted and equally controversial Bode Miller can bounce back from a year lost to injury and put a golden exclamation point on his stellar career. One of the coolest things about the Olympics is that men’s downhill is always one of the first events. It’s scheduled for Sunday, weather permitting. And it’s going to be a good one: While Olympic downhill tracks often lack suitable challenge for the world’s best speed demons, Rosa Khutor (the very track on which Miller was re-injured two years ago) is an acknowledged beast, for once worthy of the five rings.
Here’s a rundown of the Olympic fortnight schedule of ski racing events (all start times are Sochi local—nine hours ahead of EST). Whether U.S. athletes can match their record eight-medal Vancouver performance remains to be seen, but American race fans should have plenty to cheer about.
Sunday, Feb 9, 11:00 a.m.
Does it mean anything that Miller—competing in his fifth Olympics at age 36—was fastest in Thursday’s training run on the Rosa Khutor course that wrecked his knee two years ago? Of course it does. Like Babe Ruth pointing to the fence, Miller has said that one of his goals for this season is winning gold in the Olympic downhill. So far in his comeback season, he’s only managed a couple of podium finishes on the World Cup tour. But he’s Bode—the guy who skied up onto the fence at Kitzbuhel and recovered to finish second. On a given day, anything is excitingly possible, though of course Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal will have something to say about it.
Women’s Super Combined
Monday, Feb. 10, 11 a.m./3 p.m.
Who are the best all-around skiers? Super combined requires racers to possess the daring of downhill with the finesse of slalom—and do it on the same day. The results can be hard to predict. Injured Lindsey Vonn was always a threat. Absent her, the favorite has to be her friend and rival, Germany’s Maria Hofl-Riesch. But remember, Mancuso took silver in 2010 Olympics and the 2007 World Championships.
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 11:00
Vonn would have been as sure a bet to win the Sochi downhill as there is in alpine racing. Instead, she’ll watch from the NBC commentators’ booth. That improves the chances of Mancuso, who finished second to Vonn in the Vancouver downhill. And as for a potential American dark horse, watch Stacey Cook, who has two downhill podiums to her name.
Men’s Super Combined
Friday, Feb. 14, 11 a.m/3:30 p.m.
Again, it’s hard to predict the super combined. But remember this: Ted Ligety, the GS specialist, won it at Turin in 2006 (his first Olympic medal) and again at last year’s Schladming World Championships. And Miller won it at Vancouver in 2010. A Valentine’s Day gold at Sochi would not be shocking for either.
Women’s Super G
Saturday, Feb. 15, 11 a.m.
Like many an American racer through the ages, Mancuso thrives on the big-spotlight races. She’s never won a World Cup discipline title, but has racked up eight Olympic and World Championship medals, including three in super G. Meanwhile, Cook is the top American in this season’s World Cup rankings: She’s 13th; Mancuso is 14th.
Men’s Super G
Sunday, Feb. 16, 11 a.m.
If it’s a speed event, Miller is a threat. He won the 2005 world super G title at gnarly Bormio, then added a gold in the event at Vancouver. This year he’s ranked fourth in the super G standings, and leader Svindal looks hard to beat here too. Also to watch: American Travis Ganong (ranked 19th) and Ligety.
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 11 a.m.
Mancuso stunned the world with her breakthrough gold in the 2006 Turin games. She’s struggled in GS this year (ranked 29th) but remains a real threat in the event. Meanwhile, Shiffrin—no longer just a slalom specialist—is ranked sixth on the World Cup, and it just feels like she’s a sure bet for an Olympic podium.
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 11 a.m.
Ligety will almost certainly win this race. Might even take silver and bronze as well. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinturault currently have more World Cup points in the event, but even they know Ligety is the world’s best GS skier—one of the greatest ever in the discipline of disciplines. Meanwhile, it’s probably the last chance (barring an unlikely slalom start) to watch Miller in the Olympics—he’s ranked 18th on the World Cup, and because he’s Bode Miller he has an outside shot in any race he enters.
Friday, Feb. 21, 4:45 p.m.
As big as Shiffrin’s lead in the World Cup points is, it doesn’t reflect the astonishing margins by which she’s been demoralizing her opponents. So young, so good…anything but gold would be a stunning disappointment. If Shiffrin can win an Olympic slalom, she’ll be American to do so since Barbara Ann Cochran at the 1972 Sapporo games. And the women’s slalom will be the first ever Olympic night race, making it a prime live-viewing opportunity for NBC and American fans.
Saturday, Feb. 22, 4:45 p.m.
As with the women’s race, the men’s slalom will be a night race—an exciting end to the Russian Olympiad. If any American can best World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria, Vladimir Putin will eat his hat. Best hopes: David “Chowder” Chodunsky, a Minnesota native and Dartmouth NCAA champ (16th in this season’s slalom standings), Ligety (31st) and Vermonter Nolan Kasper (41st).
2014 U.S. Olympic Alpine Team:
David Chodounsky, Crested Butte, CO (6/25/84)
Erik Fisher, Middleton, ID (3/21/85) *
Travis Ganong, Squaw Valley, CA (7/14/88)
Jared Goldberg, Holladay, UT (6/15/91)
Tim Jitloff, Reno, NV (1/11/85) *
Nolan Kasper, Warren, VT (3/27/89) *
Ted Ligety, Park City, UT (8/31/84) *
Bode Miller, Franconia, NH (10/12/77) *
Steven Nyman, Sundance, UT (2/12/82) *
Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CA (4/27/80) *
Andrew Weibrecht, Lake Placid, NY (2/10/86) *
Stacey Cook, Mammoth Mountain, CA (7/3/84) *
Julia Ford, Holderness, NH (3/30/90)
Julia Mancuso, Squaw Valley, CA (3/9/84) *
Megan McJames, Park City, UT (9/24/87) *
Laurenne Ross, Bend, OR (8/17/88)
Mikaela Shiffrin, Eagle-Vail, CO (3/13/95)
Leanne Smith, North Conway, NH (5/28/87) *
Resi Stiegler, Jackson Hole, WY (11/14/85) *
Jacqueline Wiles, Aurora, OR (7/13/92)
* Competed in past Olympic Winter Games