12:46 PM EST, February 3, 2012
Several ruminations, mostly numerical, about three subjects:
1. When Bode Miller finished second Friday in the downhill at Chamonix, France, it was the 21st top-three finish for a U.S. alpine skier this season. With any luck, that means Team USA will have its highest number of podium finishes since the 2007-08 season.
That sounds pretty good. But a closer look at the record suggests the U.S. may be living on borrowed time.
*Of the 21 top-threes, 20 have come from the four exceptional veterans who have made the United States an alpine power since the 2006 Winter Olympics. Miller has four, Ted Ligety three, Lindsey Vonn ten and Julia Mancuso, three. The only interloper among the Big Four is Mikaela Shiffrin, the 16-year-old who finished third in a Dec. 29 slalom.
*Other than Miller, 33, and Ligety, 27, only one other U.S. man has finished in the top nine in 24 races this season.
*Other than Vonn, 27, Mancuso, 27, and Shiffrin, only one other U.S. woman, Stacey Cook, has made the top six in 21 races this season, and she also is already 27 years old.
*The numbers are more telling over a longer period: of 162 podium finishes in the last six seasons (including the current one), the Big Four have produced all but nine -all but two of the 49 in this season and last.
*In the past six seasons, Shiffrin is the only woman other than Vonn and Mancuso to make the podium.
*In the past six seasons, the Big Four have 72 of the 73 U.S. World Cup victories. The outlier: Marco Sullivan, who won a downhill in January, 2008.
Meanwhile, the other traditional ski powers -- Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France - are getting podium finishes this seasom from a younger and/or newer generation, including Federica Brignone (21) of Italy, Anna Fenninger (22) of Austria and Beat Feuz (24) of Switzerland.
What to make of all those numbers? Barring an injury to one of the Big Four, the U.S. alpine team should be in good shape through the 2014 Olympics. Barring stunning improvement from the less decorated skiers on the team or continued success from an aging Big Four, the future beyond 2014 doesn't look promising.
2. What can you say about Hannah Kearney except "Wow?"
Over and over and over again.
Thursday night at Deer Valley, Utah, the 25-year-old from Norwich, Vt., won her 13th straight World Cup moguls competition. Her World Cup unbeaten streak now stretches more than 12 months.
The streak is even more impressive, considering 75 percent of a skier's result in moguls comes from essentially subjective judging.
Kearney's competitive resume also includes the 2010 Olympic gold medal, the 2005 world title and three other world championship medals, including two at last year's running of the biennial world meet.
3. It's time for figure skater Jeremy Abbott, now 26, to prove he can be a medal contender in a global championship - even if Abbott insists (for public consumption, at least) that erasing his past failures is not his priority at the March world championships.
"When I get off the ice, regardless of the placement, I just want to be happy with what I do at the end of the day," Abbott said Sunday, after winning his third U.S. title in the past four years.
As a reigning U.S. champion, he has competed in one Olympics, finishing 9th, and two world championships, finishing 11th (2009) and 5th (2010). Moreover, the fifth is deceiving; it followed the 2010 Olympics, when four of the nine men who beat Abbott in Vancouver did not compete at those worlds.
(Abbott also was 11th at his first worlds, 2008, when he made the team after Evan Lysacek withdrew with an injury.)
How bad were Abbott's finishes? Much worse than just going 0-for-3 in podiums, even if it has became a lot easier for a champion to implode in the next competition under the new judging system.
Before Abbott, no reigning U.S. champion had finished lower than seventh at that year's Olympics since 1936. Prior to Abbott in 2009, no reigning U.S. champion ever had finished as low as 11th at worlds. (A new nadir was established last season, when Ryan Bradley took 13th.)
The sad thing is Abbott's performance at the 2010 U.S. Championships was good enough to win the Olympic gold and the world title that season.
The good thing his performances at nationals also looked worthy of a world medal this year.
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