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Alpine skiing: Depth, local training the key to US Sochi success

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The high-flying US ski team are hoping that more strength in depth and local knowledge of the slopes will give them a leg-up on the competition at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.

Despite star athletes like Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety and a raft of gold medals at world championships here, the team is still not satisfied with the talent on offer and plans to rule in every discipline by the time the Games come along.

This will include bringing more young athletes up to top level, and maximising opportunities to train on slopes ahead of races, a controversial move that has drawn criticism from other teams who claim this gives the Americans an undue advantage in competitions.

Immediately after the end of the world championships here, part of the US technical team, including slalom gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin, will be off to Sochi for some local training.

"We're going to check it out. We've got a great partnership with the Russians and have the opportunity to train on the Olympic venues," said the US team's alpine director, Patrick Riml.

"It's preparation for the next chapter. Olympics are really very important for us and to have the opportunity to be on that hill, it's priceless, it's so important.

"That's why we try to build those relationships all over the world, to have those opportunities."

Ahead of the world championships, the US men's speed team already got to try out some of the slopes in Schladming along with the Austrian team.

"It always helps... if you get on a difficult hill like that, to have more runs and more days on that, it just makes you feel comfortable.

"You know the terrain, you know the steepness, it makes a big difference," said the Austrian-born Riml.

More than knowledge of the slopes, however, the key to US success in Sochi will be an expanded team that can dominate in every event, even if one or two athletes go out with injury.

The US team experienced the worst possible start to its world championship campaign when Vonn crashed heavily during the opening women's super-G race and was ruled out for the rest of the season.

Bode Miller, who is recovering from a knee operation, was also missing in Schladming.

Although the team rebounded in impressive fashion, with Ligety taking three golds, 17-year-old Shiffrin bagging a fourth, and Julia Mancuso winning super-G bronze, there was still room for improvement, Riml insisted.

"We've got some unbelievable skiers... but we've got to prepare ourselves for losing a top athlete, because that always unfortunately happens. So we've got a lot of work to do."

By the time the US team travels to Sochi, it will have at least two or three strong contenders in every event, in every discipline.

"Our goal has to be to have the same strength in the team in every single event: have the same for super-G, have the same for the tech women, same for tech men," he said.

"We've got to really have a strong team top to bottom."

Indeed, while the women's downhill team has been performing well all season, Ted Ligety is the sole man at the top with his male counterparts struggling to make the top 15.

"Our strength is that even though we're successful we always look for ways of getting better and that's what we're going to do in the springtime," Riml vowed.

"We will have a great year, we've had a great world championships but we've got to figure out ways to get even stronger and better."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130217/alpine-skiing-depth-local-training-the-key-us-sochi-success