KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The 22nd Winter Olympics are starting to feel like the first Spring Olympics, with snow events becoming slush events.
On a balmy Friday when cross country skiers competed in short sleeves, course conditions and luck of the draw were major factors in the men's combined downhill. Early start numbers were a big advantage, and none of the U.S. skiers had them. American Jared Goldberg (No. 28) said the morning downhill run had more in common with water skiing than alpine racing.
In the afternoon, Bode Miller had a hard time finding his rhythm on a surprisingly grippy combined slalom and finished sixth. Ted Ligety "respected the course too much" and finished 12th. Ligety got spooked when slalom ace Alexis Pinterault of France went out five racers before him.
"I skied way too conservatively," Ligety said. "In inspection, the snow was really bad. I thought it was going to get really broken up. The one guy I watched at the top on the TV blew out, and I knew Pinterault went out as well. I didn't think it would take a run that was 100 percent in order to come down and get a medal. When it's snow like this, and it's so wet, that 10 percent less or 15 percent less (in intensity) costs you a ton of time.
"If it was icy, it wouldn't have made that much of a difference. I just didn't match my intensity for what it would have taken to get a medal."
Sandro Viletta of Switzerland, a speed specialist who had the 14th-best downhill run, won the gold medal. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia took silver and Christof Innerhofer of Italy claimed bronze.
Viletta has won only once on the World Cup — a super-G two seasons ago at Beaver Creek.
"I knew that the slalom specialists were less than one second behind me," Viletta said. "I knew I had to risk it all in slalom. It was a perfect run for me."
Miller, who has little confidence in his slalom at this point in his career, said he made too many errors.
"The errors today are really weird, you don't really notice them watching the big screen, but when you're skiing you feel them," Miller said. "The snow was really responsive, so the skis just pull back underneath you and you just feel your speed go. You saw guys trying not to do that and go flying out of the course. I just had too many bobbles."