There’s a golden pedigree to the U.S. alpine skiing team as it begins the Sochi Games on Sunday at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso are all Olympic champions, while Mikaela Shiffrin is the reigning world champion in slalom.
The 20-member roster features 13 returning Olympians, four Olympic medalists and nine world cup podium finishers. Team USA’s veteran leadership provides the rising stars comfort on the world’s largest stage.
“Bode has his own style. He doesn’t really care how he looks or about trying to be perfect all the way down,” said teammate and rookie Olympian Jared Goldberg. “I take his approach to my style, too. I want to be as fast as I possibly can and that’s it.”
Team USA’s leadership is rooted in Miller and Ligety, who have collectively appeared in eight Olympic Games. Five-time Olympic medalist Miller needs three medals to match the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian in history, short track speedskater Apolo Ohno. The 36-year-old begins his quest on Sunday in the men’s downhill.
“The Olympics are meant to be the pinnacle of the sport,” said Miller. “If the downhill course doesn’t get into your head, it’s not good enough.”
In 2013, Ligety became only the fourth man — and first in 45 years — to win three gold medals at a single world championships. His success rolled into the 2013-14 World Cup season, when he earned 10 consecutive giant slalom podium finishes – the second-longest streak in world cup history.
Pacing the women’s team are Mancuso and Shiffrin. With three Olympic and five world championship medals, Mancuso is the most decorated U.S. female alpine skier. Mancuso is set to compete in the downhill, super-G and giant slalom events.
"It is all about being mentally here,” said Mancuso. “I really believe in myself. I just want to ski and have fun, and the results will come."
At 18, Shiffrin is the youngest member of the alpine ski team. In just her second full season on the world cup circuit, the teenager earned six podium finishes, including four victories. Shiffrin is scheduled to compete in slalom and giant slalom at the Sochi Games.
The U.S. enters the Sochi Games coming off its most successful showing in team history after taking home eight medals from the Vancouver Games. Team USA’s success has stemmed from strong athletic training partners – most notably, the game-changing U.S. Ski Team Speed Center in Copper Mountain, Colo., and the European training bases in Soelden and Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Austria.
All alpine events for the Sochi Games are held at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, located at the Aibga Ridge and rising above the Mzymta River. The total length of the competition track is 20 kilometers and seats 7,500 spectators.
“The course has very different components and very different demands,” said Miller. “The hill suits a lot of different guys. Rather than this hill eliminating people from medaling, I think it highlights the differences in people’s styles.”
Olympic alpine competition consists of five events for both men and women: downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and super combined. The same rules apply for both men and women in each discipline, but the courses differ. With 10 sets of medals up for grabs, Team USA athletes are in medal contention for every alpine event hosted at the Sochi Games.
Competition begins Sunday and continues through Feb. 22.