Olympics: U.S. ski team seeks big medal haul in Sochi
Park City •Â Bode Miller is back and ready to "kick ass." Lindsey Vonn says she might actually start the World Cup season on time. And Ted Ligety is coming off a triple-gold medal performance at the world championships.
So yeah, it could be one heck of a Sochi Olympics for the U.S. Ski Team.
Three of the most accomplished Alpine skiers in U.S. history appear poised to lead a potentially unprecedented American medal haul in Russia, four years after setting a national record with eight medals at the Vancouver Olympics.
"The whole Alpine team is moving in the right direction," downhiller Marco Sullivan said.
Naturally, though, it's the marquee stars of the Park City-based team who have attracted the most attention at the U.S. Olympic Committee's media summit at the Grand Summit Hotel here the past three days.
Vonn told scores of reporters Wednesday that she's ahead of schedule in her recovery from a devastating crash in the super-G at the world championships last February, in which she tore two ligaments and suffered a tibial plateau fracture in her knee.
The most successful American skier in history she's won two Olympic medals, five world championships medals and four overall World Cup titles skied on snow for the first time Aug. 31 during a training camp in Chile, and might race the season-opening giant slalom Oct. 26 in Soelden, Austria.
"I do feel physically 100 percent," she said. "It's a matter of kind of breaking through the unknown. â¦ It's not that I don't trust my knee or I don't feel 100 percent physically. I haven't pushed it to the next level yet. But I am confident that when I do, it's going to be good."
The defending Olympic downhill champion said she doesn't plan to ski slalom races this season, concentrating instead on giant slalom and the speed events, which are easier on her knee. But she has been encouraged by the pace of her recovery, which some feared would keep her from reaching Sochi.
"Absolutely zero setbacks," she said.
Before her, Ligety discussed the confidence that has come with refocusing on his intensity during races the 30-year-old Park City native became the first skier since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 to win three gold medals at worlds, and has a shot at the overall World Cup title this season.
And Miller flashed his trademark charisma in discussing his return from more than a year away from the World Cup circuit to recover from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
"I'm going to kick ass," Miller said, drawing laughs from reporters. "That's the gist of it."
Soon to be 36, Miller is heading for his fifth Olympics, having won five medals so far two at the 2002 Salt Lake Games and three at the 2010 Vancouver Games, a gold in super combined, silver in super-G, and bronze in the downhill.
He's the most decorated Olympic skier in American history, and says he feels great after losing about 20 pounds and rehabbing his knee with his wife, model and beach volleyball player Morgan Beck, on the beaches of Southern California.
He said he was able to ski without pain at a training camp last month in Chile.
"In terms of structural stuff, my knee is perfect right now," Miller said. "The bone surface is perfect, all the ligaments are in great shape. The last days we skied [in Chile] were pretty intense in terms of demands on the body it was bumpy and icy and it felt great. I feel like I'm ready."
Miller also made news for blasting the controversial anti-gay laws in Russia Â "embarrassing" and "ignorant" he called them Â and for providing his usual unique perspective, laced with wry humor. He insisted for the gazillionth time that he's not motivated by medals or money.
"It's what I love to do and I'm good at it," he said. "It's a perishable, being a ski racer. Until you're rotten and shriveled up, you keep going. I'm pretty shriveled up, but I'm not all the way rotten ... at least not yet."
The two-time overall World Cup champion plans to race at the season-opening World Cup giant slalom, where other members of the team might also start to make a splash.
Ligety, for example, is a four-time giant slalom World Cup champion, and the reigning world champ. The Americans also have 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom who was not part of the historic medal haul in Vancouver. She was sixth in the giant slalom at worlds, though.
"I definitely have more confidence," she said.
The quiet Ligety was all but forgotten amid the media clamor around Miller and Vonn, who appeared via teleconference.
But the two-time Olympian (and 2006 gold medalist) won gold in the giant slalom, super-combined and super-G at the world championships, and was joined at the summit by fellow Utahn Steven Nyman of Sundance, a two-time Olympian who recovered from a torn Achilles tendon to win a World Cup downhill last season his first victory in six years.
"I feel younger than I've felt in years," he said.
Sullivan, too, said he feels refreshed after an encouraging season last year and a move to Park City last summer to be with his girlfriend and recommit himself to training at the team's Center of Excellence.
The oft-injured two-time Olympian reached the podium for the first time in nearly four years last season, and finished the year ranked in the top 15 of the World Cup downhill rankings.
"I was feeling healthy for the first time in a few years," he said, "and I was just able to keep it rolling. â¦ I'm looking forward to bigger and better things."
Him, and everybody else.