KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The U.S. men's chances of getting back onto the super combined podium in Sochi is looking bleak after the opening downhill run.
The two chief American medal threats – Bode Miller and Ted Ligety – both had sluggish downhill times, placing 12th and 18th after the downhill. Miller had a surprisingly slow start, finishing 1.43 seconds off the lead in what is considered his strongest half of the event. Norway's Kjetil Jansrud paced the field in the downhill with a time of 1:53.24. Ligety finished 1.93 seconds off Jansrud's pace. U.S. skiers Jared Goldberg and Andrew Weibrecht finished the downhill in 15th and 20th position, trailing by 1.66 and 2.09 seconds, respectively.
Ligety is far stronger in the slalom half of the event and could make a podium push with an outstanding run, but it will likely take one of the best performances of his career. Miller won gold in the in the event in Vancouver and could still be in play with a top-end slalom run, but that isn't expected. When he captured gold in 2010, he put up an average downhill and a strong slalom run. This time around, Miller would have to soundly beat a number of slalom specialists to get back into contention.
The first portion of the event in Sochi is remarkably similar to Ligety's run in the 2010 Vancouver Games, when Ligety finished the downhill in 19th position, then won the slalom portion of the event, only to finish out of the medals in fifth place.
"I'm not worried about the downhill guys," Ligety said. "I'd like to be closer to Ivica Kostelic [in seventh place], but further ahead of Alexis Pinturault [in 23rd]. So yeah, I'm in a good position."
Despite being moved up one hour to extend the integrity of the run, Ligety and Miller said the sun did impact the snow quality and made it difficult for skiers further down the order. The U.S. had fairly mediocre starting position, with Ligety, Weibrecht and Miller pushing off 22 through 24. Goldberg drew 28th position.
"It's so hot," Ligety said. "All the top guys ran pretty early so that's definitely a big factor."
"All those little ripples, guys are just breaking off all the top of those," Miller said. "They make all the bumps sharper because they carve out the dish and then put a little kicker on it. Obviously the middle and bottom was soft. The sun is just cooking it up there. That didn't play for any of us. I think Americans had tough start numbers, but there's no way to know that beforehand. It could have gotten faster. Most likely not, but it's always possible.
"We had to take maximum risk. I think everyone did. But the mistakes I made, there's no excuse for those."