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U.S. Alpine team experiencing power outage

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Four years ago, after four events up at Whistler, the U.S. Alpine ski team could boast five Olympic medals, two of them gold.

Here, after four events, the count for the Americans: one medal, Julia Mancuso’s bronze in the super-combined, the event that mixes one race of downhill and one of slalom.

The men’s super-combined Friday, for instance, featured the Vancouver 2010 gold medalist, Bode Miller, and the 2013 world champ in the event, Ted Ligety. If ever a race seemed tailor-made for the U.S. team to win one or more medals — here it was.

VIDEO: Ted Ligety — “It was a choke”

Miller finished sixth, Ligety 12th.

Ligety, afterward: “I choked, for sure.”

Miller: “I was pretty lousy.”

Is it, well, all gloom and doom for the U.S. Ski Team, which — truthfully — in recent years has done much to back up its audacious claim to be “best in the world”?

Or do the first days of the 2014 Winter Games more accurately reflect a broader truth?

Which is: Alpine skiing is a hard game. Nothing — repeat, nothing — is guaranteed. To win, you have to be really good, conditions have to be right and, frankly, the breaks have to break your way.

That’s what happened in Vancouver.

Lindsey Vonn won two medals in 2010, including gold in the downhill. She is not here, injured.

Would she have won the downhill here? Who knows. But let’s be real.

Healthy, would she — the winner of 59 World Cup races and four World Cup season overall titles — have changed the dynamic of Wednesday’s downhill? Absolutely.

VIDEO: Wife to Bode Miller — “I need positivity out of you”

Miller won three medals in Vancouver, including that super-combined gold. He caught lightning in a bottle in 2010. He seemingly came to Sochi on a roll and absolutely dominated the three downhill training races. Then, though, he took eighth in the race itself last Sunday when the light changed, afterward saying that he hadn’t won a race in five years in flat light and maybe needs corrective eye surgery.

In good light Friday for the downhill portion of the super-combi, he made a mistake between the second and third intervals, going wide on a turn, that cost him precious time. In the second run, he simply hasn’t put in enough slalom time this season to hammer as hard as he needs but nonetheless went for it, all out, as only he can, in a course set by Croatia’s Ante Kostelic, father of the eventual silver medalist, Ivica Kostelic.

A Kostelic slalom set is full of unusual rhythms. A typical course on today’s World Cup circuit can be almost mind-numbingly repetitive in its precision, the gates seemingly fixed almost by laser and a drill. A Kostelic course hearkens back to the old days, with gates set in ways meant to punctuate a racer’s traverse down and across the mountain.

VIDEO: Miller explains why race was so challenging

It was a Kostelic set at the Vancouver slalom in the super-combi as well. So Miller knew, more or less, what to expect.

“Obviously,” Miller said, “I should have skied better in the downhill,” because he ended that 1.43 seconds behind the first-run leader, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who would eventually finish fourth.

“I mean, but — if I skied well, I would have been a second faster, probably, and that puts me on the podium. But I should have skied a second and a half faster in the slalom, and that would have put me on the podium.

“These days, in these conditions, you can’t make mistakes. I went through today pushing hard. I’m trying to do everything I can to be fast. The margins,” he said, are so small right now.”

Ligety, meanwhile, the 2006 combined gold medalist, had put himself — he thought — in excellent position after the downhill to prevail. He was 1.93 back after the first run. Unlike Miller, though, he had confidence in his slalom. The Koselic course set, he said, turned out to be “easier than I thought it would be.”

And yet, he said, “I definitely skied way too conservatively. That’s definitely frustrating.”

VIDEO: Three fences go down in crash

He added, as an explanation, “I just respected it too much. I respected the course too much.”

Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta won Friday. To give you an idea about the variability of ski racing, even at this level: Viletta has never won a World Cup super-combined. “At the moment,” he said, “I cannot believe this is true.”

Kostelic’s silver was the fourth in his career, and he offered beautiful testimony about it.: “One should not be unthankful for the silver. First of all, I could be anywhere. I could be in a hospital right now. I could be picking garbage in Calcutta or dying of hunger in Africa. Anyone who complains about silver or bronze doesn’t have the right to do so.”

Italy’s Christof Innerhofer won bronze; he won silver in the downhill. He had no expectation of winning a medal Friday, saying that in the slalom start house, “I was thinking of nothing. I was relaxed because I was thinking I didn’t have a chance … it is crazy I can be here [on the podium] today.”

Here, then, is the reality about ski racing.

Things might continue like this throughout these 2014 Games for the U.S. alpine team.

Then again, as the women’s halfpipe team — two medals of three — and the men’s ski slopestylers — a podium sweep — made abundantly plain, things might turn around, and fast.

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“I mean, it’s a bummer,” Ligety said. “It would have been nice to get a medal today.”

But, he said, “There’s still a lot of events left. There’s still a lot of racing.” And, he said, “It’s all totally different racing than it was today.”

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena meet Olympic qualification

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
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Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who weren’t partners this time last year, mathematically qualified for the Rio Olympics this week.

Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic champion with Todd Rogers, and Lucena, who has never competed in an Olympics, played their 12th international tournament together, meeting the FIVB minimum to be eligible for the Games.

Dalhausser and Lucena, both 36, and the pair of two-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are assured of being the top two U.S. men’s teams in Olympic qualifying standings come the June 13 qualifying deadline.

Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are expected to be officially named to the U.S. Olympic team shortly after that deadline. A nation can qualify no more than two pairs per gender to the Olympics.

This time last year, Dalhausser was playing with fellow two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal. They paired up after neither earned medals with different partners at the London Olympics.

Dalhausser and Rosenthal were the world’s most successful pair in 2013 and 2014, winning six FIVB World Tour events. But their partnership changed after Dalhausser suffered an oblique injury last May 28.

They played one more tournament together, losing in the round of 16, and announced their breakup on July 27.

“I think if he doesn’t have that oblique injury, we’re out playing, and we’re back to where we’ve been the last two years, as the No. 1 team in the world,” Rosenthal said in July, according to Redbull.com. “When we weren’t injured, we were the best team in the world. We’ve had to deal with some injuries, and I don’t think either of us have had to do that our whole career, so that put a little more pressure on us: ‘Why aren’t they winning all the time? Why aren’t they the best team in the world?’ When we’re healthy, we were.”

Dalhausser turned to Lucena, with whom he began his career in 2003 before joining Rogers full-time in 2006.

Dalhausser and Lucena finished first or second in eight of their first nine FIVB tournaments since reuniting.

They were eliminated from this week’s event in Moscow by Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai, the same pair that upset Dalhausser and Rogers in the London Olympic round of 16.

Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are Olympic medal contenders, along with Brazilian World champions Alison and Bruno and other pairs from Brazil, Latvia and the Netherlands.

On the women’s side, three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and 2012 silver medalist April Ross are assured of finishing as the top American pair in Olympic qualifying. Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat will likely clinch the second spot in two weeks.

MORE: Walsh Jennings, Ross win Cincinnati Open

Nearly 150 health experts ask WHO to consider moving, delaying Olympics

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LONDON (AP) — Health experts on Friday urged the World Health Organization to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak.

The 150 experts — including a former White House science adviser — issued an open letter to the U.N. health agency, calling for the Games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.”

The letter cited recent scientific evidence that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, most notably babies born with abnormally small heads. In adults, it can cause neurological problems, including a rare syndrome that can be fatal or result in temporary paralysis. The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, cases in Rio have gone up rather than down.

Several public health academics have previously warned that having hundreds of thousands of people head to the Aug. 5-21 Games in Brazil will inevitably lead to the births of more brain-damaged babies and speed up the virus’ global spread.

WHO declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February and in its latest assessment this week, said it “does not see an overall decline in the outbreak.”

“The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors. “It is not the time now to throw more gasoline onto the fire.”

WHO has already advised pregnant women not to travel to Rio and says other travelers should avoid poor and overcrowded parts of the city. WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said earlier this month that the U.N. health agency is increasingly worried about Zika but stopped short of recommending the Rio Olympics be moved or postponed. Chan, who is not of child-bearing age, noted that she herself would be going to the Games.

Among the letter’s signatories are experts from more than two dozen countries in fields including public health, bioethics and pediatrics. The letter also noted a potential conflict of interest, highlighting the decades-long collaboration between WHO and the International Olympic Committee.

The authors said that partnership “was last affirmed in 2010 at an event where the Director-General of WHO and president of the IOC signed a memorandum of understanding, which is secret because neither has disclosed it.”

They also pointed to a group that WHO established to help cities not only with health advice, but to potentially help them bid for major events including the Olympics.

“WHO cannot credibly assess the public health risks of Zika and the Olympics when it sets neutrality aside,” the letter stated.

WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

In an email to the AP, the IOC said it would “always consult the WHO for guidance and advice on health matters.”

Concerns over Zika have prompted USA Swimming to move its pre-Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta and Major League Baseball also scrapped a series of games that were going to be held in San Juan.

No Olympic Games have ever been moved from their host city due to medical concerns, but in 2003, FIFA decided to switch the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament from China to the United States on short notice due to the threat posed by the respiratory virus SARS.

MORE: WHO increasingly worried about Rio, but Olympics OK to go on