KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Bode Miller wasn't good enough. Ted Ligety was too conservative. Andrew Weibrecht fell down. Jared Goldberg isn't quite there yet.
Or maybe it was the course setting in the slalom. Or the snow conditions in the downhill. Or, well, take your shot. At this stage, it doesn't matter. The super combined came and went Friday, and one or all of those realities extended the Sochi podium drought for the U.S. men's Alpine team.
"We didn't find it today," U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "As a team, we skied defensive."
Surely, it's too early to hit the panic button. The U.S. men still have the super-G, giant slalom and slalom remaining, and they will have some medal contenders in those races. But two quality podium opportunities have passed in the downhill and super combined, and mistakes continue to knock the U.S. out of medal territory.
On Friday, in a super combined event that features one downhill and one slalom run, Miller finished in sixth place, .93 from bronze position and 1.4 seconds from gold. Goldberg settled for 11th, Ligety for 12th and Weibrecht's fall in the slalom kept him from finishing.
Miller and Ligety were the two with the highest expectations, with Miller having captured gold in the event in the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Ligety winning the event in the world championships in 2013. Costly miscalculations unraveled them both, from Miller's chosen line in the downhill to Ligety's apprehension in the slalom.
In the downhill, Miller took a calculated gamble and went remarkably wide in a turn near the middle of the run, veering far outside the course's center. It appeared to have gutted his speed, and he was never able to regain momentum in the softening snow settling in the middle of the course. He came out of the downhill 12th, and that was essentially it for Miller. It put him in a position where he needed a superb slalom, and, as he said between races, he's known for his love-hate relationship with the discipline. He had a solid slalom that elevated him to third, but it was only a matter of time before he was pushed down to sixth.
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"Obviously I had a chance to ski better in the downhill," Miller said. "If I had skied well, I would have been a second faster, probably, and that puts you on the podium. But I should have skied a second-and-a-half faster on the slalom, at least, and that would have put me on the podium."
Ligety didn't fare much better, needing a very good slalom run to move him up from his 19th-place position after the downhill. It was possible, considering Ligety was a far better slalom performer than downhill, and skiers were faltering left and right on the course. His chances looked even better when France's Alexis Pinturault – expected to be in the mix for the podium – crashed and failed to finish the slalom.
But that crash might have contributed to Ligety's failure, as he assumed the snow quality had deteriorated and required a less aggressive run. Instead, it was the opposite. The snow held up well and allowed more risks – not less. By the time Ligety realized it, he was halfway through his run and already out of the medal contention.
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"I could have gone way, way harder," Ligety said. "With the snow the way it was, the course set was actually surprisingly easy. It had the ability to be really fast. Guys who aren't downhill skiers, if they just decided to throw down and didn't make huge mistakes, they were fast.
"I skied definitely way too conservatively. That's really frustrating for sure. I would have much rather blown out being on the line of being fast than done what I did today. I respected the course too much."
With that, the U.S. men go back to the drawing board, with Rearick saying he expects a more attacking style in the super-G, giant slalom and slalom. Unfortunately, the only resounding medal favorite the men have in those races is Ligety, who, barring a major disappointment, should medal in the giant slalom. Ligety also won gold in the super-G in the 2013 world championships, making him a podium contender. Miller and Weibrecht also took silver and bronze, respectively, in the Vancouver super-G, giving the U.S. some hope of a medal rush before the games end.
All of that said, expectations are beginning to fade with missed opportunities. Considering how the U.S. men have handled those expectations through two races, that might not be a bad thing.
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