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U.S. hopes not so high for Saturday’s slalom

Los Angeles Times

February 21. 2014 10:10PM

SOCHI, Russia — Ted Ligety is going home with his giant slalom gold so, all in all, things worked out well in Sochi for the men’s U.S. Alpine team.

Dartmouth College grad Andrew Weibrecht scored a shocking silver medal in super-G and teammate Bode Miller, of Franconia, N.H., held on to share the bronze.

Wait, isn’t there one more Olympic race?

Oh yeah, Saturday’s men’s slalom.

This final event is must-watch only for Austrians, Germans and Norwegians.

America’s history in the Olympic slalom is more like “The Gates of Wrath.”

The U.S. hasn’t been relevant in the event since Phil Mahre won gold in 1984 at Sarajevo.

The slalom is finicky in that it requires fast-twitch muscles and uncompromising dedication.

Great slalom skiers are either young and/or dedicated almost exclusively to the sport. Ingemar Stenmark and Alberto Tomba, the best slalom skiers of all time, didn’t race downhill or super-giant slalom.

Americans interested in Olympic glory tend to use slalom as a steppingstone to all-around greatness.

Miller started as a slalom expert, winning five World Cup races before 2004. He hasn’t won a slalom race since.

Slalom takes a physical toll and Miller, 36, couldn’t even make it to his last finish line.

He wanted to ski all five events in his last Olympics but pulled out of the slalom after finishing 20th in Wednesday’s GS.

Miller’s knees couldn’t handle any more sharp cuts on soft snow.

“This is pretty aggressive stuff for the lower legs,” Miller said.

Ligety is entered in the slalom but, you’d be surprised to know, isn’t a leading medal contender.

He used to be good at slalom, was ranked as high as second entering the 2006 Turin Games, and used that advantage to win the gold in combined (it was two slalom runs then).

Ligety has since focused more on super-G and GS, an event he has dominated for eight years.

Ligety ranks only No. 31 in this year’s World Cup slalom rankings and has failed to finish seven of the last 11 races. His top finish was 11th place last November in Finland, 1.96 seconds off the lead.

Ligety might draw slalom inspiration from his GS win or go out in his first run.

America’s most consistent slalom skier is veteran David Chodounsky, a former NCAA champion from Dartmouth who has two top-10 finishes this year.

The race favorite is Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, looking to avenge his fourth-place finish in Wednesday’s GS.

He will be pressed by Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, who at 19 can become the youngest winner of a men’s Olympic Alpine event.

An interesting story to watch is Germany’s Felix Neureuther, ranked third in the world, recovering from a car accident in Munich on his way to Sochi. He finished eighth in GS.

Also in the field are 2006 Olympic champion Benny Raich (Austria) and 2010 champion Giuliano Razzoli (Italy).

There have been 17 Olympic winners in men’s slalom. Raich and Razzoli are the only racers who can be second-time winners.

Winter Olympics