PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – For about 20 minutes during the Olympic giant slalom, Ryan Cochran-Siegle was in the leader’s box, soaking up the spotlight. By the end of the race Sunday, he had slipped into a tie for 11th.
That’s just about par on the icy course for the U.S. men’s Alpine skiing team at these Winter Games.
The squad wasn’t really expected to do all that well – and it hasn’t.
Through four races, they have only one top-10 finish – Ted Ligety’s fifth place in the Alpine combined – and are in danger of leaving the Olympics without a medal for the first time since the 1998 Nagano Games.
The only individual men’s event remaining is Thursday’s slalom. Really, though, this is not all that surprising given the only top-three finish in more than 29 World Cup races this season was by Ligety last month.
“We know we have to be better,” U.S. coach Sasha Rearick said. “We’re not where we want to be, to be the best in the world. We’ve got work ahead of us.”
This time around, the men don’t have an equivalent of, say, a Mikaela Shiffrin, who has the only U.S. Alpine medal so far after winning the women’s giant slalom. Or a Lindsey Vonn, who will be the favorite in the women’s downhill Wednesday. The closest they have is Ligety, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who finished 15th in the race Sunday as the defending champion and 3.21 seconds behind winner Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
Before the Olympics began, two of the team’s top downhillers, Travis Ganong and Steven Nyman, were sidelined by injuries. Nyman, the team’s speed captain, tore a ligament in his knee a little more than a week before the start of the Games.
Not only that, but it’s the first Olympics without six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller on the slopes since 1994. He’s in South Korea, but working in the broadcast booth for NBC.
The top American performance in the GS was turned in by Cochran-Siegle, with only Hirscher, who earned his second gold at these Games, and runner-up Henrik Kristoffersen going faster in the second run.
“I was just enjoying the moment,” Cochran-Siegle said. “It was cool to be on TV that much.”
The 25-year-old Cochran-Siegle could be the future. He discussed the “interesting team dynamic” as the Alpine team appears to be between eras.
“Ted, Lindsey, they’re getting older and every four years as a ski racer, that takes away a lot,” Cochran-Siegle said. “It’s a good thing we have Mikaela, because she’s a strong skier. Besides that, we need to build a lot.”
Ligety on Sunday wouldn’t rule it out a return for the 2022 Beijing Games even though he will be 37, an age where no Alpine man has won an Olympic medal.
Of course, there are racers on the horizon. River Radamus is leading the overall race in the NorAm Cup, which is the equivalent of the minor leagues for ski racers. In addition, Sam Morse won the downhill at the world junior championships last season.
“I’m not going to call out who that next star is because I don’t want any added pressure to those people,” Rearick said. “But we have some young guys that I’m very proud of.
“Who knows? Maybe Steven Nyman, because he’s a machine, is back? Maybe Ted? We’ve always been focused on the process and being tight as a family, pushing each other and challenging each other as best as we can.”