There were really no surprises when the U.S. Ski Team announced its squad for the Sochi Olympics: Mikaela Shiffrin was on the list and, of course, Lindsey Vonn was not.
Five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller made his fifth squad Sunday, while 2006 Olympic gold medalists Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso also earned spots. In all, the Americans had nine women and 11 men on the team.
Shiffrin could be the headliner in Russia, especially with Vonn, the reigning Olympic downhill champion for a few more weeks, staying home to recuperate following another operation on her right knee.
The 18-year-old Shiffrin is having quite a season, too, winning three World Cup slalom races. She will be heavily counted on to help the Americans try to top their record eight-medal haul in Vancouver four years ago.
Too much pressure for someone so young?
“I’m not worried about the Olympics, that it’s going to overwhelm her,” U.S. women’s coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “There’s nothing else she wants right now except success. It was no different than when Lindsey was her age. She was the same way.”
Vonn was trying to get back to the slopes in time for Sochi after tearing two ligaments in her knee during a high-speed crash at the world championships last February. She was ahead of schedule, too, before re-injuring her surgically repaired ACL in a crash during training in November.
Undeterred, Vonn rested the knee and still hoped to make it back, but sprained her MCL racing a downhill in France on Dec. 21. She later decided to undergo another surgery.
Losing Vonn has been a big jolt to the team. Not only because she’s a four-time overall World Cup champion and has won 59 races on the circuit, but because the U.S. speed team members use her to measure their progress. She’s their most dynamic training partner and when she missed most of the early season preparation period to rehab her knee, it may have contributed to the team’s slow start this season.
“The other athletes didn’t really have the pace that they usually have with Lindsey,” Hoedlmoser explained. “Lindsey is always there in training and shows some incredible speed and you know when you train with her and you’re close, that you’re probably going to be close to being on the podium.”
But they’re picking up steam with Sochi drawing near.
Mancuso definitely feels ready after finishing seventh over the weekend in a downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
“This puts me in a good spot for the Olympics,” said Mancuso, who captured two silver medals in Vancouver.
Same with Stacey Cook, who finished tied for fifth in Cortina.
“You can believe that you’re skiing well for a long time but until there are results you don’t have that next level of confidence, and I think I have that now,” said Cook, who made her third Olympic squad. “It’s good timing.”
Miller is rounding back into form as well, taking second during a super-G race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, on Sunday. Miller was away from competition for 20 months as he recovered from micro-fracture surgery on his left knee.
It’s an injury that could’ve ended his career, but he will be in the starting gates in Russia, with the intention of skiing numerous events. He’s coming off his most successful Olympics, winning a medal of every color in Vancouver.
“I don’t think Bode ever doubted that he’d be at this point right now and I don’t think he ever contemplated that he would stop before this,” said Luke Bodensteiner, the executive vice president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association.
“We believed in him and believed he could make an effective return from his injury. I think Bode is very cognizant of stature, very cognizant of the legacy he wants to leave and he’s got some unfinished business and really wants to see this through.”
“We’re on a really good track right now,” Alpine director Patrick Riml said. “I feel really comfortable with this team going into the Games.”