McNichol: Bode not too serious about Olympics
With only one American medal after four of five events, Monday's results were instead the crowning end to a disappointing week for the U.S. ski team.
With at least two legitimate medal contenders in every event (unlike any Olympic year in recent memory), and with a slew of competitors peaking at exactly the right moment, the Americans should now be in possession of a handful of hardware. They are not.
History will judge this week harshly, as it should. It was not hype that sent this U.S. men's team to 16 podiums, 37 Top 10s and four victories in World Cup action over the past three months. Nor was it hype that put three different athletes in the top of the sport's rankings by late January. By any measure, this was the best and deepest of any U.S. squad ever sent to the Olympics.
But while no ski racer considers the one-shot nature of the Games the only measure of success, to see an entire team fail to deliver at such crucial moments suggests there's a flaw in the system.
One of the system's designers, head coach Phil McNichol, spoke to ESPN.com about the week gone by after Monday's race.
Question from Carrie Sheinberg: Can you put this past week into perspective?
Answer from Phil McNichol: In spite of everything that's gone on, you have to stay positive. Of course, Ted [Ligety] is in fantastic form, he actually skied extremely well on the top of the GS here, it was really good skiing. He's going to be obviously a medal threat in the slalom, if not a gold-medal threat. Anything can happen in the Olympics. We've now seen Joel Chenal come down and win a silver medal, we haven't seen him all winter. We saw Antoine Deneriaz win a gold medal in the downhill. We haven't seen him on the podium, maybe a couple of top 10s. We've seen Ambrosi Hoffman win a medal in the super-G, we haven't seen him all winter. So, the Olympics are strange things. It's taken until now in the GS for the Austrians to win gold. They are probably now starting to show their dominance, they have a strong slalom team, as well.
Q:So, if Ligety wins the slalom, will you be able to leave these Olympics feeling like this was a job well done?
A: I'll wait to see what happens in the slalom, but I'm going to leave these Olympics knowing that I've done everything I can to have the guys perform here at the Games and that's the only thing I'm in control of.
Q: Are you surprised at what's gone on so far?
A: I'm shocked. Everyone is. Everyone's expectations were really high, and rightly so. This is the first time since I can remember, and I don't remember the buzz before Sarajevo outside of the Mahre brothers, that we had three, four guys coming in here as a real strong team and, all of a sudden, there were a lot of expectations.
Yeah, there was pressure, I just didn't really think the guys would fall down this hard. Especially Daron. Bode? Again, he's an island and it's clear that Bode wasn't too serious about the Olympics. He said it, he said it, he said it, over and over again. I thought he was just making noise because he's such a competitor and such a strong-willed individual that he would come and he would compete hard. Not that he hasn't, but the fact that he hasn't been able to ski to the podium is a real indication that he's 1) either not ready, or 2) doesn't want to. It's not just bad luck.
Q: Do you think you deserve the criticism people are going to hand out?
A: I don't know what to say. I don't think I do. I don't think my team does, I don't think my guys do. However, the reality is that we didn't get the performances done the way we're capable of. We'll evaluate that, it's happened before on race day, we've had good races and bad races, that's ski racing. But for as little praise as I've gotten during the last 10 years of my career, I can take a little criticism now.
Q: What do you work on now?
A: I don't know. At this point, it's hard to say. Our focus was to come in here and try to operate just as any other World Cup. And the World Championships and the Olympics are different. Maybe we let the guys get caught up in all the pre-interviews and the pre-hype a little too much. Maybe we could have isolated ourselves more here. Maybe we could have done this, maybe we could to that, I don't know. The bottom line is I think the guys were athletically prepared. And the guys have been in high-pressure situations before and have performed. And Ted did here.
Again, the Olympics are strange the way they shake out. If you look through all the results, you start to see a lot of guys who weren't expected to do well. Or a lot of guys who were and didn't. And maybe one or two guys that were and did. It's all over the place. It's just the nature of the beast.
Q: Isn't this the opposite of what the U.S. team has always been at the Olympics? It seems [the team] has always come in as the cowboy-type underdogs and then swiped a medal or two.
A: We came in as the favorite and left the loser, instead of coming in the underdog and leaving the winner. But again our goals were pretty high on the men's side, five medals because we've won four in the last two World Championships. But the Olympics are different though.
Q: What's different?
A: I'm assuming it's the pressure. I personally have felt a lot of stuff, but not different standing on the hill and not different in our preparation and talking to the guys and seeing what they can do. But watching the competition unfold, and just as I've seen it on paper in the past, all these different people, different results going on that makes your head spin around. It's clear that something different's going on. To think that the outcome will be just like another World Championship is probably a little na´ve. We probably should have been more realistic. Two medals here is probably worth four or five at the World Championships in terms of getting it done. Currently, I'm pretty happy we've gotten a gold medal, especially from one of our newer guys. I think it's a clear indication of what the program can do. All the guys have been fast in different components of the race, but we are going to live with the failure. We brought a lot of guys that are capable of winning medals and we haven't won medals.
Q: What did you think watching Bode's race today?
A: He hit a rock in the first run, nine-tenths deficit. He can make that up, he had a valiant effort on the second run.
Q: It seems like Bode is purely looking for a challenge. That he wants to be faced with something so hard, nobody thinks he can pull it off, and then he does.
A: If that's the case, then maybe he'll be pretty excited for the slalom. If you do figure out what he's looking for, let me know.
Carrie Sheinberg, three-time national ski racing champion and top American finisher in the alpine slalom event at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.