Friday, February 14, 2014
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Mixed start for U.S. after favorites flop

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[February 14, 2014]  By Julian Linden

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) — With more than a third of the medals on offer at the Sochi Olympics already handed out, the United States is in a familiar position.

A team that was deemed to be one of the best America had ever sent to the Winter Olympics is tied for second place for gold medals with four and equal second for overall medals, with 12.

But their lofty placing hides the fact that many of their biggest medal hopes have flopped, leaving the lesser known members to shoulder an increasingly heavy load.

Lindsey Vonn never even made it to Sochi, withdrawing from the downhill because of a knee injury, robbing the alpine skiers of their biggest drawcard.

Bode Miller, one of the favorites for the men's downhill, did not win a medal while Julie Mancuso, who was one of the fancied competitors in the women's downhill after Vonn withdrew, also missed out on the podium.

Sarah Hendrickson, the world champion in women's ski jumping, came 21st, while Shani Davis — who was chasing a third successive gold medal in the men's 1,000 meters speedskating — limped home in eighth place.

"I look at it as a job and an opportunity to broadcast my talents and my abilities to not only Americans but to the world," Davis told reporters after his loss.

"Unfortunately, I have built a legacy and a history of doing really well in the Olympics and doing really well in the 1,000 and being able to defend a title. But when the world stage is watching with the Americans and NBC watching, I just wasn't able to do it so I'm very disappointed in that."

Arielle Gold, the world champion in women's snowboarding halfpipe, got injured before her event and never made it to the start line, while one of the major flops was Shaun White.

After coming to Sochi talking up his chances of winning two gold medals in snowboarding, he left without a medal in either, pulling out of the slopestyle then finishing fourth in the halfpipe, which he had won at the two previous Olympics.

"I don't think this makes or breaks my career," White said. "I'm happy to take this for what it is and continue to ride and put my best foot forward."


While White made a mess of his events and Gold never got the chance to live up to her name, snowboarding has still seen rich pickings for the Americans.

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Three of their four gold medals have been in snowboarding and all four have come at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in the mountains high above Sochi.

Sage Kotsenburg gave the Americans the perfect start when he won the first gold of the Games, claiming the inaugural slopestyle event in the absence of White.

Pulling off a trick he invented himself but had never actually tried before, Kotsenburg provided the first big surprise of the Games with an unexpected win.

The following day, Jamie Anderson won the women's slopestyle, then on Wednesday, Kaitlyn Farrington took gold in the women's halfpipe while her team mate Kelly Clark won the bronze.

Things got even better on Thursday when the Americans swept the medals in the men's slopestyle skiing, another new addition to the Olympic program.

Joss Christensen won the gold, Gus Kenworthy took silver and teenager Nick Goepper the bronze.

"I am so stoked about an American one-two-three," said Kenworthy.

"Nick is always the guy to kind of beat in a contest, he is so consistent and so incredible and Joss is really killing it right now. He is one of my best friends and I am stoked."

But while the strains of the Star Spangled Banner have been playing up in the mountains above Sochi, down at the Black Sea resort there has been very little to celebrate with one bronze medal, in the figure skating team event, so far.

A day after Davis bombed out, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, ranked number one and two in the world, missed out on medals in the women's 1,000m speed skating.

"We didn't expect this coming in," U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro told reporters.

"Always at the Olympics the competition is fierce, but number one and two in the world and you finish seventh and eighth, that's not a good place to be sitting."

(Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by Ken Ferris)

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