American skiers plan Vancouver domination

By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada plans to "own the podium" at next month's Vancouver Winter Olympics while the goal of American skiers and snowboarders is to be "the best in the world." Something will have to give.

There can be only one king of mountain, setting up the stage for a bruising battle for medals between the host country and their fierce rivals from the south.

The Americans' boast is likely to raise hackles among other Olympic nations, as it did at the 2006 Turin Games, but Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), makes no apologies.

"As we go into Games our goals have not changed, "Best in the world is still where we want to be," Marolt told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday.

"We're not saying we're the best in the world -- all we're saying is that is what we aspire to.

"If our goal is to try to be best in the world it is clear we have to win some medals in every sport.

"Our goal is to try to win more medals than any other country in skiing and snowboard and whatever that number is that's where we want to be.

"We have athletes in every discipline with the potential to score."

From the alpine events at Whistler, to the Nordic competitions in Callaghan Valley and freestyle and snowboard at Cypress Mountain, Marolt believes the U.S. teams will be the strongest ever sent to a Winter Games."

Marolt singled out alpine speed queen Lindsey Vonn, winner of six World Cup races this season including four downhills, but the biggest American medal haul could come in the Nordic combined, a discipline it has never before won an Olympic medal.


Over the last few seasons the U.S. has emerged as power in the event that combines ski jumping and cross-country. Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick have been on the World Cup podium this season with Spillane and Demong notching wins.

Kikkan Randall, who became the first American woman to win a medal at the Nordic world championships taking silver in the freestyle sprint last year, will lead the U.S. charge for medals in the cross-country events.

The U.S. will also not lack for experience when ski-cross makes its Winter Games debut in Vancouver with alpine team veterans Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett returning for one more shot at Olympic glory.

American Snowboarders won seven medals in Turin and again will be counted on to make significant contributions.

Shaun White and Hannah Teter are expected back to defend their halfpipe Olympic crowns while Seth Wescott will try to make it back-to-back golds in the men's snowboard cross.

One area where Americans could find it hardest to hit the podium are the alpine events.

Vonn's spectacular season has taken the focus off the rest of the U.S. alpine team which has struggled to find form.

No other American woman has set foot on the World Cup podium, although Bode Miller notched the first win for the U.S. men this season with a victory in the combined last weekend.

Ironically, Miller, who has never shown much enthusiasm for the Olympics, now represents the best chance for an alpine medal by the men.

"We have worked hard to go into the Games in peak form with every individual hitting on all cylinders," said Marolt. "We're going up there excited, positive and confident in our preparation. Now we just have to do the job."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)