Commentary

U.S. team's depth a good sign

Updated: November 9, 2010, 5:28 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

VAIL, Colo. -- The U.S. alpine ski team has made itself a hard act to follow, but that's a delightful problem to have in the greater scheme of things, especially since the program appears to have an ensemble cast capable of keeping the show going.

Vancouver confirmed the stature of the team's stars, Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who helped the U.S. squad win eight medals at the 2010 Olympics.

At 33, Miller has five Olympic medals, connected by a long and twisting path through four Winter Games, and Mancuso and Vonn own two and three, respectively. Between Miller and Vonn, U.S. skiers have captured four of the six overall World Cup titles up for grabs in the past three seasons.

Vonn and Mancuso, along with 2006 combined event gold medalist Ted Ligety, are all committed to competing through the 2014 Sochi Olympics, as is surprise 2010 super-G bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht, the upstate New York product who says he's fully recovered from offseason rotator cuff surgery. Ligety, shut out of medals in Vancouver, rebounded to take his second World Cup giant slalom season title this past March.

Even if the marquee names were to falter, this team now has layer upon layer of world-class experience. All but five of the 26 athletes formally named to the A and B teams in Vail this past weekend have competed in at least one Olympics, and thanks to the big names, some of the younger skiers have been able to develop without feeling undue pressure.

Take 21-year-old Coloradan Alice McKennis, who said she went into her rookie season on the World Cup circuit "not getting too worked up about results. … I didn't have a lot of high expectations, didn't know what to expect at that level of racing, and I enjoyed myself and really focused on enjoying skiing."

The payoff came when she racked up enough World Cup downhill points to earn a slot on the 2010 Olympic team. She was disqualified in the downhill at Whistler, but said what she learned about nerves made the trip more than worthwhile.

Lurking on the men's C team are Will Gregorak and Colby Granstrom, two generation-next talents born nine days apart in September 1990.

Gregorak made his World Cup debut in the giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, last month (he did not get an official result because the second run was canceled). Granstrom, a junior world champion in the super-combined event, will make his first World Cup start in a slalom race this weekend in Levi, Finland. He said there's nothing but upside to having so many accomplished skiers to try to climb past on the competitive ladder.

"We know we have the best guys in the world, so we know when our training runs are among the best in the world," Granstrom said.

Still, as U.S. men's head technical coach Mike Day concedes, "The first year of a quad[rennium] is always kind of a downturn. We want to keep the momentum going. We have good energy with veterans like Bode and Ted pushing our guys along … there's no better situation than that."

The odd-year World Championships slated for Garmisch, Germany, in February will provide one more tangible goal to build toward in an attempt to avoid any backsliding.

Tim Jitloff, a 25-year-old Nevada native who is focusing on the giant slalom this season in an effort to get off the bubble and into the top 15 in the world, said last season's medal haul sets a standard that may be hard to maintain but absolutely merits pursuing.

"It's such a powerful thing when a team does what it did," Jitloff said. "No question everyone wants to mimic that performance, but sports fans know how difficult and challenging that is. That's why you have to give it so much respect."

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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