"Medal hopes" aren't words used when talking about the U.S. Olympic Alpine Ski Team. It's more like " medal expectations."
"With the men, this year, it would definitely be a disappointment if they don't medal," said Chris Puckett, former U.S. Ski Team member and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Competitive Alpine Program director.
Even a casual sports fan has heard of skiing sensation Bode Miller, who grabs headlines for his "win or crash trying" approach. He likely will ski in five events and is a medal contender in all five.
But teammate Daron Rahlves may have the final medal say, especially in the downhill and super-G.
"It's a serious men's downhill," Puckett said, describing the course at Sestriere Borgato, which is also the sight of the men's super-G and the downhill course for the combined race. "It starts above tree line. It's pretty neat."
The women's downhill, combined downhill and super-G races are at San Sicario Fraitere, and Steamboat's Caroline Lalive figured to be one of America's top medal contenders in the downhill. Unfortunately, Lalive fractured her left patella during training Jan. 26, the day after she was named to the Olympic team. She likely will not compete in the Olympics, but the U.S. women have other skiers capable of standing on the podium.
Lindsey Kildow and teammate Julia Mancuso are medal contenders in every race they enter. Kildow may ski in all five events.
"The Americans have a way of popping in there in big events," Puckett said.
But the woman who is the early pick to win the most medals at the 2006 Olympics is Croatia's Janica Kostelic, who won four gold medals four years ago in Utah.
On the men's side, Austria's Michael Walchofer, Germany's Hermann Maier and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal will challenge Rahlves and Miller in the speed events.
On the technical side, all eyes will be on Italy's Giorgio Rocca in the slalom race. All slalom and giant slalom events are at Sestriere Colle, and Rocca will have his countrymen behind him. American Ted Ligety is second in the slalom World Cup standings, well behind Rocca.
Miller and Rahlves are America's top giant slalom skiers. The giant slalom combines the speed of downhill with the technical aspects of slalom.
For the women, Sweden's Anja Paerson may be the favorite. Americans Kristina Koznick, Kildow and Mancuso will challenge her.
Alpine skiing is one of the Olympic's biggest events, so all the finals will be shown in primetime. Skiing begins Feb. 11 and runs through the end.