After months of accumulating points on the world cup circuit, the top U.S. alpine skiers are finally ready to go downhill.
Down the hill in PyeongChang, that is.
Olympians Stacey Cook, Tim Jitloff, Alice McKennis and Steven Nyman were among the seven discretionary picks named to the 22-person U.S. Olympic Alpine Skiing Team on Wednesday. They join Olympic newcomers Mark Engel, Breezy Johnson and Wiley Maple, as well as 15 skiers who had previously qualified for Team USA based on their results on the world cup circuit so far this season.
Among the skiers who had previously qualified are Olympic champions Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn.
Nyman and Cook are the veterans among the discretionary picks, with each going to their fourth Winter Games in PyeongChang. Nyman, a downhill specialist who turns 36 during the Games, was 27th in the event in Sochi. He has since stood on world cup podiums seven times, and was 0.03 seconds away from a medal at the 2015 world championships. Though Nyman is coming back from a crash one year ago that ripped apart the ligaments in his knee.
The 33-year-old Cook was 17th in the downhill in Sochi and ranks 17th in the event this season. She’s earned three world cup podiums in her career.
Jitloff has earned his third Olympic berth after finishing 15th in giant slalom in Sochi. The 33-year-old Jitloff is coming off a second-place finish in giant slalom at a European Cup stop at Folgaria-Lavarone in Italy. He is ranked 43rd.
McKennis returns to the Games after an eight-year break. Known for her prowess on speed events, McKennis made her Olympic debut in Vancouver, where she finished 27th in the downhill, but a 2013 injury kept her out until 2015. Now 28, McKennis is ranked 26th in the downhill standings and 30th in super-G. Her sole world cup podium was a downhill win in 2013.
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Engel and Johnson each competed in their first world championships last season. Engel, 26, who is also a musician and plays gigs around Salt Lake City, finished 34th at in slalom at those world championships and is ranked 49th this season. Johnson, 22, was 15th in downhill and 28th in super-G at the world championships. She ranks 23rd in downhill and 40th in super-G. Johnson has earned two 10th-place finishes, including one in December.
Rounding out the discretionary picks is 27-year-old Maple, a speed skier who is ranked 39th in downhill and 44th in super-G.
The U.S. alpine team is coming off a five-medal performance in Sochi, but it enters PyeongChang without two of its longtime stars in Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso.
Miller, who was Team USA’s most decorated alpine skier with six Olympic medals, including one gold, announced his retirement in November. In winning the bronze medal in super-G in 2014, Miller became the oldest Olympic skiing medalist at age 36.
Mancuso, meanwhile, skied her last race less than a week ago, taking a victory lap down the hill on Friday at Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy while wearing a superhero costume. With four Olympic medals, including a giant slalom gold medal in 2006 and a bronze in the combined in Sochi, Mancuso is the most decorated U.S. woman in the sport at the Olympics.
Even without those two, Team USA still features plenty of star power going into PyeongChang.
Shiffrin, who won the 2014 Olympic slalom title at age 18, becoming the youngest Olympic champion in the event, has been the world’s most dominant skier as of late. Now 22, she comes into the Games ranked first in giant slalom, slalom and overall standings, and after focusing mostly on technical events early in her career has shown prowess in the speed events this year, including her first three world cup podium finishes in downhill.
She’s following in the tracks of Vonn, 33, the all-time women’s world cup wins leader with 79. Despite her dominance on the world cup circuit, Vonn has been limited by injuries in each of her previous two Olympics, and she missed the 2014 Games entirely. However, she still won a downhill gold medal and super-G bronze medal in Vancouver, and the Minnesota native has world cup wins in both events this season.
After winning his second Olympic gold medal in 2014, this time in giant slalom, Ligety came back to win his third consecutive world title in the event in 2015. A season-ending knee injury in 2016 was followed by more injury struggles last season, but the 33-year-old Ligety has notched two top-seven results in giant slalom this season. He also won the 2006 Olympic gold medal in the combined.
Team USA’s other Olympic medalist from 2014, Andrew Weibrecht, is also returning to another Games. Weibrecht famously won his first Olympic medal in 2010, finishing third in super-G despite never having a top-10 finish on the world cup circuit. Then he did it again in Sochi, edging teammate Miller for the silver medal. He’s had his best world cup finishes since Sochi, with seven top-five results.
Rounding out the U.S. team are Bryce Bennett, Tommy Biesemeyer, David Chodounsky, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, Tommy Ford, Jared Goldberg, Nolan Kasper, Megan McJames, Laurenne Ross, Resi Stiegler and Jackie Wiles.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.