Bode, Weibrecht continue USA's streak
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- In one part of this posh and raucous resort town, the American bobsled team trains with quiet, controlled purpose in anticipation of next week's medal events, where the United States has emerged as a formidable opponent for the world.
The Americans crave to taste the day -- which they believe is now -- when the world will be talking about them as consistent medal threats, not an individual here and there.
They crave what was being enjoyed across town by the U.S. ski team Friday, when the work has coalesced with results and validation coming in the form of medals.
And more medals.
And still more medals.
Two days after Lindsey Vonn's exhilarating gold-medal dash and a day after Julia Mancuso scored back-to-back silver medals, the U.S. took two more spots on the podium in the men's super-G Friday, with mercurial Bode Miller winning silver on his daughter's 2nd birthday (he also won bronze earlier this week in the downhill) and Andrew Weibrecht -- from Lake Placid, N.Y., of all places -- taking bronze in his first Olympics.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the gold with a tight, blistering run that seemed to be fueled almost as much by Miller's charge as by the demands of the course.
In four races, the Americans have won one gold medal, three silvers and two bronzes in the Alpine disciplines. The six medals are the most the country has ever produced in a single Olympics. The previous high was five set at the 1988 Calgary Games.
"It's hard to put into words. I don't think anyone was expecting it," said American Marco Sullivan. "It was the Lindsey Vonn show coming in, and now it's turned into the U.S. ski team's show, and it's really cool."
The best the dominant Swiss could finish in the super-G was eighth, produced by medal favorite Carlo Janka. Another medal probability for Switzerland was Didier Cuche, who finished 10th. The powerhouse Austrians could do no better than 14th.
"It feels a little like the national championships. It's nice that it's not just a one-man or one-woman show," said American Ted Ligety, who finished 19th in Friday's race. "And I think the cool story is Julia doing so well. She hasn't done a lot in the last couple of years, and being as fast as she is under that kind of pressure is pretty remarkable."
If the women's downhill course was notable for its treacherous angles and jumps, the super-G was equally demanding, challenging the versatility, toughness and composure of the athletes. The top of the course was hard ice, fast and unforgiving, but an asset to the aggressive able to take advantage and increase their speed.
What followed were alternative bursts of sunlight and shadow into the sun-baked middle and bottom portion of the course, where the consistency of the snow turned mushy, slowing times and making it nearly impossible to make up for a slow start.
The result was an odd, thrilling show, one in which athletes took some reckless chances attempting to compensate for slower start times. In his past six super-G events, Weibrecht finished 11th, 12th and 15th, failing to finish three other times. In Monday's men's downhill, he finished a disappointing 21st. The day was supposed to belong to the masters of the discipline, the Austrians and the Swiss.
"Once a team gets its momentum going, we all feed off that," Miller said. "We've all known each other for years, and when you see someone you know so well experience that kind of elation, it makes you want it that much more."
Weibrecht drew third and immediately set the pace with a harrowing ride. He broke out of the start quickly and abandoned all forms of caution. He skirted disaster on at least two occasions, balancing on one ski as he regained his composure.
"I think this is a great course. I like all the different elements," Weibrecht said. "Kind of reminds me of where I grew up skiing in Lake Placid because there is so much different terrain. Never easy, never lets up. You're turning and moving. It's an awesome hill and awesome race.
"I don't know exactly what happened, but I actually thought I was going to miss the gate. It was definitely a wild ride for me," he said. "I was giving it everything I had, and I expected to make mistakes going that fast. That was all part of the plan, to just roll with the punches and deal with an ever-changing run."
Weibrecht was not seriously challenged until Miller rode 10th. Miller stormed out of the gate, faster than Weibrecht at the first split by .13 seconds, an advantage that grew to .40 seconds. Then, Miller sloshed in the slower portion of the track, but he held on to take the lead over Weibrecht by .03 seconds.
Like Weibrecht, Miller was not threatened -- despite a spirited run by Italy's Werner Heel -- for a while, not until Svindal took off from the 19th position. He outpaced Miller by the second split and even increased his lead in the softer snow, grinding hard and tight. In the end, he blistered past Miller into first place by a .28 margin, a mark that effectively ended the competitive portion of the day for the gold. Erik Guay of Canada gave Weibrecht a sweaty moment before being slowed at the end of the run for fifth place.
"I didn't think I'd be where I am, but it feels awesome," Weibrecht said. "To be in the company of Bode and Aksel at any race is pretty awesome."
The American ski effort, despite the obvious wattage of Miller and Vonn, has been a democratic one. Ligety, expected to be competitive, finished 19th, but he believes he is an outside medal favorite in the super-combined (he won Olympic gold in the event in 2006). But Mancuso and Weibrecht did not exactly expect to be headliners, and both have become sudden stars.
"It's incredible that we came out firing so hard, especially in a year where we haven't had a lot of podiums or a lot of wins," Weibrecht said. "To come out and put down runs at the start like we've done is awesome.
"I've been knocking on the door. If you don't watch ski racing every weekend, you might miss my name, but it definitely feels good to establish myself a little bit. This is the best possible place to have a great race."
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.