Mixed results for NH Olympians
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Two events into the men's Olympic Alpine skiing program in the Sochi Winter Games, some of the sport's biggest names have yet to join the party.
Sunday's Olympic downhill was won by Austrian Matthias Mayer, who previously had never topped a World Cup podium, and the pattern continued in Friday's super combined when the favorites were left in the shade by Swiss outsider Sandro Viletta.
Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., suffered more frustration on Friday when he labored to sixth in the super combined, slightly better than pre-race co-favorite Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who finished eighth in the showcase speed event.
Another headliner, American triple world champion Ted Ligety was 12th in the super combined, his opening event at the Games, and said the Olympics was producing “funky results.”
While Miller had a difficult time on the slopes at Rosa Khutor, another Granite Stater, Andover’s Kris Freeman, wilted in the heat on an already challenging cross-country course at Krasnaya Polyana. Skiing in his fourth Olympics, Freeman was the fourth and last American in the 15-kilometer classic, placing 52nd overall from a field of 92.
There was good news Friday for New Hampshire residents in ski jumping, with Nick Alexander of Lebanon and Nick Fairall of Andover among the three Americans to advance to Saturday’s first round. Remarkably, in a qualifying field of 51, Alexander and Fairall placed 30th and 31st, respectively.
Also scheduled to compete on Saturday is Alpine skier Leanne Smith of Conway, who will race in the women’s super G after failing to finish in Monday’s super combined.
There are New Hampshire ties to Saturday’s most anticipated men’s hockey game, as well, with former Manchester Monarchs Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown skating for the United States against Russia, along with former University of New Hampshire forward James van Riemsdyk. Former Monarchs Slava Voynov is a defenseman for Russia.
Competing in his fifth Olympics, Miller skied like a demon in the first few days of training last week, punching in some quick times. But since the weather has turned warm and sunny, his speeds have cooled off.
Sunday's super-G offers a chance of redemption for the maverick 36-year-old, but Miller seems to be in something of a fog over course conditions.
“It's going to be tough,” he told reporters after blaming mistakes for his failure to defend his super combined title.
“Skiing is not meant to happen when it’s 50 or 60 degrees.”
“It's just mistakes,” added Miller, who with five Olympic medals and four world titles is the United States’ most decorated skier.
“The tactics are there, and the skiing is there, but I just can't make mistakes like I did today.
“I can't say I'm surprised to be off the podium, but the skiing I did today I felt could have landed me a medal.”
With temperatures at Krasnaya Polyana’s Laura Cross Country Ski Center reaching 50 degrees and turning snow to mush, Dario Cologna of Switzerland reigned won the 15K gold medal with Swedes Johan Olsson and Daniel Richardsson earning silver and bronze, respectively.
Freeman — whose best Olympic showing was a fifth-place finish at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 and who placed 54th last Sunday in the skiathlon — finished Friday’s race in 42 minutes 54.8 seconds, 4:25 behind Cologna.
In a U.S. Ski Team press release, Freeman said, “It was one of the hardest courses I think I’ve ever raced on. It was really slow and had tons of elevation with a three-minute sustained climb. It’s hard. It’s the Olympics; it’s the way it should be.”
A 33-year-old Type 1 diabetic, Freeman said that despite his best efforts, he was unable to achieve peak performance.
“I wish my fitness had come around for me today,” he said. “I was racing really cautiously because I go right over the edge so easily. I’m not happy with the result, but I put everything I had out there.”
In large-hill qualifying, Alexander and Fairall — who on Sunday was named the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Red Rolfe Male Athlete of the Year for 2013 — both landed jumps of 120 meters, but Alexander scored slightly higher with the judges, totaling 96.6 points to Fairall’s 95.7.
Austrian Michael Hayboeck was the top qualifier, at 124.8.
The large-hill final follows the first round on Saturday.
Martyn Herman of Reuters reported on the men’s Alpine skiing from Rosa Khutor.