Halfway into Olympics, U.S. ski racers have 1 medal
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — As Julia Mancuso and other Alpine skiers from the United States muddled their way through some less-than-auspicious results in pre-Olympic races on the World Cup circuit, the team's thinking — well, the hope, really — was that they'd get in gear at the Winter Games.
Hasn't happened so far in Sochi.
Midway through the 10-event Alpine schedule, the Americans have won only one of the 15 medals awarded, Mancuso's bronze in the super-combined. Some individual athletes from other countries already have twice as many.
Things look particularly bleak when compared to what happened at the 2010 Vancouver Games: The U.S. had seven medals through five races and finished with eight, helped by a gold and bronze from Lindsey Vonn, who is sidelined this time after knee surgery.
"We probably expected a little more, to be honest," U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said Saturday, when only two of four American competitors completed the super-G race.
Mancuso led the way with an eighth-place finish, then acknowledged, "There's definitely some disappointments."
Her teammate Leanne Smith was 18th; as the second starter on a difficult course, she was the only one of the first eight women to finish, and called herself "the guinea pig." The other Americans, Laurenne Ross and Stacey Cook, were among 18 of 49 entrants who failed to make it through all 43 gates successfully.
Cook fell on her right side while trying to navigate a turn and wound up tumbling through a gate. Team spokesman Doug Haney said Cook was a "little bruised ... but OK."
Austria's Anna Fenninger won the gold in 1 minute, 25.52 seconds, more than 1½ seconds faster than Mancuso, and another Austrian, Nicole Hosp, added the super-G bronze to her silver in the super-combined, giving that country an Alpine-leading four medals.
Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch got the silver Saturday; she won the gold in the super-combined. Neither was surprising in the least: Hoefl-Riesch leads the overall World Cup standings this season. Mikaela Shiffrin is the highest American at No. 6; Mancuso is next at 20th, followed by Cook at 22nd, Smith at 50th and Ross at 77th.
"If you do well before, on World Cup, you go in with confidence. And the U.S. didn't do that good in World Cup," said Thomas Stauffer, Germany's Alpine head coach for women. "It's hard to just go in and (say), 'It's the Olympics, I'm peaking now.'"
In cataloguing what's happened at the Sochi Olympics, race by race, Riml did not suggest any common thread to the lack of American medals. He didn't offer much in the way of specifics, either.
On the men's downhill, in which five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller was fast in training but eighth when the medals were at stake, Riml simply said, "It didn't want to happen." On the men's super-combined, in which Miller was sixth and Ted Ligety 12th, Riml said, "It was not our day."
Speaking about the women's speed team, in general, he said, "The confidence level was not ... the same for the whole team as it was last year," when six U.S. racers finished in the top 16 of the final downhill standings.
Riml was adamant that the soft snow caused by temperatures regularly above 50 degrees (10 Celsius) is not to blame for his racers' results in Sochi, because, while unusual, "it's the same for everybody."
Asked whether the U.S.-record eight Alpine medals four years ago set the bar too high for 2014, Riml quickly replied, "No."
"It's definitely a high number to achieve," he said, "but we still have strong athletes."
Now the U.S. is left to look ahead to the remaining five races, hoping in particular that the 18-year-old Shiffrin, who's from Eagle-Vail, Colo., and 2006 gold medalist Ligety, who's from Park City, Utah, can turn things around the rest of the way.
"There's a chance in every event left to have a medal," Riml said.
Shiffrin, the reigning world champion, will be favored to win the slalom, for example, and can contend in the giant slalom. Ligety will be favored in the giant slalom, where he's the world champion and a four-time World Cup season title winner.
Shiffrin only arrived in Russia on Friday night. Until then, she'd been training in Europe and watching the Olympics on television. She's got her own theory about what's been going on with her teammates.
"Part of it for the U.S.," she said, "is that they're just trying to find the way to get in the mental game."
AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf and Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
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