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Ricker on the rebound

February 23 Knives out for U.S. Ski Team

By Bob Barnett

SESTRIERE, ITALY – Whistler’s Maelle Ricker, who crashed heavily in last Friday’s snowboard cross final, was released from hospital that evening.

Ricker, who had won the morning’s time trials and every heat going into the final, appeared to catch an edge coming off a bump and landed on her back on a flat part of the course. She was airlifted to Torino and diagnosed with a bruised lower back and a mild concussion.

She was driven back to the athletes village in Bardonecchia that evening.


U.S. Ski Team preparing for criticism

Historians say when Hannibal crossed the Italian Alps, via the Susa Valley, during his March from Spain to Rome he lost 15,000 of his 40,000 troops and all but one of his war elephants.

A couple thousand years later, the U.S. Ski Team’s march through the same pass in the Alps hasn’t seen quite as much carnage, but heading into the final two Olympic events, Friday’s women’s GS and Saturday’s men’s slalom, the team whose motto is Best In The World has yet to prove it.

True, Park City’s Ted Ligety did capture the gold medal in the men’s combined, but other than that one race the American alpine team’s results at these Olympics are nowhere close to what was expected. Some people were predicting eight medals.

And the biggest disappointment has been the biggest star, Bode Miller. Miller’s totals, with only the slalom left, are: fifth in downhill, sixth in GS, DNF in combined, DNF in super G. His record at the Irish Igloo, the Sestriere pub the U.S. Ski Team calls home, is confidential.

Miller has also ducked out of the finish areas at the super G and GS without talking to reporters, leaving U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt to speak for him.

“I think Bode’s talked a lot to the media,” Hunt said following Monday’s giant slalom, “maybe more than he should have, and I think he’s trying to balance it all out and figure it out. He’s always looking for the limits, whether it’s in ski racing or dealing with the media, and certainly he’s going to push the boundaries.”

So, naturally, the knives are out, with American reporters just deciding when the disaster should be dissected in print. They have Daron Rahlves’s quotes for the lead.

“Woulda, shoulda, coulda — all that stuff,” he said after the GS. “We definitely came up short. It was definitely a poor performance.”

Hunt and United States Ski and Snowboard Association President Bill Marolt rightfully point out that the U.S. Ski Team is second, to Austria, in the alpine World Cup standings. And Lindsey Kildow’s unfortunate crash in training for the women’s downhill didn’t help her medal chances in Torino.

But medals are what count for the American media, and for corporate America.

Thursday’s New York Times carried a story about the whole U.S. Olympic Team headlined: Madison Avenue Is Still Seeking Its Olympic Star. Noting that no American has won multiple gold medals in Torino and that some U.S. athletes have been ungracious in defeat, The Times reported: “… for Madison Avenue, the face of the United States that has emerged from these Games is an unattractive sell of bad manners and poor sports.

“‘It’s probably the most hyped and most disappointing Olympic team we’ve had,’” Bob Williams, president of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, told the paper.

The Times added that Miller was “weighed down by expectations and a few extra pounds.”

Alpine Canada, by contrast, set a modest goal of one medal at these Olympics. And although Erik Guay, Francois Bourque and Kelly Vanderbeek each have a fourth place finish, the Canadians are also short of their goal.

But the Canadian team is young, building for multiple medals in 2010. And Genvieve Simard and Thomas Grandi are legitimate contenders in Friday’s women’s GS and Saturday’s men’s slalom, even if they aren’t favourites.

By Saturday evening the successes, failures and carnage will be totalled.