Updated: Friday, 21 February 2014 12:10 | By Agence France-Presse

Who are you? Nobodies perfect as big ski names flop

Big names who go home empty handed, under-achievers crowned as champions: the Sochi Olympics have a tendency to upset all predictions in alpine skiing. 


Who are you? Nobodies perfect as big ski names flop

Switzerland's gold medalist Sandro Viletta poses on the podium during the Men's Alpine Skiing Super Combined medal ceremony, at the Sochi medals plaza, during the Sochi Winter Olympics, on February 15, 2014 - by Adrian Dennis

When the new super-combined Olympic champion was announced last week, it wasn't US hot shot Ted Ligety or French young gun Alexis Pinturault, but Switzerland's Sandro Viletta -- a skier with just one World Cup podium to his name. 

France's Steve Missillier, who won giant slalom silver on Wednesday, could also only point to one World Cup third place back in 2010. 

Meanwhile, Norwegian ace Aksel Lund Svindal -- a five-time world champion, two-time overall World Cup winner and current leader in super-G and downhill rankings -- returned home without any medals to add to his three from Vancouver. 

"Olympic Games are often like that: many manage to shine when you least expect them," 22-year-old Pinturault said after the super-combined, in which he failed to finish.

"And to shine when you're really expected (to win) is always more difficult."

US star veteran Bode Miller was a favourite in almost every race but had to watch younger, lesser known colleagues climb to the top of the podium instead. 

"It doesn't surprise me to see some guys step in there," said the 36-year-old, who eventually won super-G bronze, his sixth Olympic medal. 

"They see this as a huge opportunity to show the world how good they are and they're willing to take a risk.

"And when you take risks, it's really everybody's game, you see how close the races play, it really could've been anybody."

Perhaps gallingly for him, Miller was overtaken in the super-G by one of his own teammates. 

Silver-medallist Andrew Weibrecht already won bronze in Vancouver but his best World Cup results were two top-10 places, he had long been beset by injury and he had no other major podiums.

- 'She's an Olympic specialist' -

"I don’t know what it is about the Olympics. It's just the one time that people in the US actually watch (skiing) so you want to put down a good performance people can be proud of," the 28-year-old said afterwards. 

When it comes to raising one's game at big events, his teammate Julia Mancuso could teach a few lessons. 

Despite missing out on World Cup trophies, the perky Californian has amassed five world championship medals and four at Olympics, most recently combined bronze in Sochi. 

As German champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch put it: "She's an Olympic specialist."

"I love being at the Olympics. I get really energised," said Mancuso.

"Anything's possible at the Olympics, you can never count anyone out. You just have to do your best."

Last-minute injuries, weather conditions or just sheer luck can turn things upside down in any race.  

But the Olympics seem to have a special vibe that brings out the best in some. 

Like Weibrecht who overtook Miller to land super-G silver, Missillier relegated teammate and top favourite Pinturault to third place on the giant slalom podium, bumping Austrian ace Marcel Hirscher down to fourth. 

In the men's downhill and super-G, a Norwegian did win a medal but instead of Svindal, it was Kjetil Jansrud.

And Swiss starlet Lara Gut had to settle for downhill bronze, while her compatriot Dominique Gisin shared a sensational joint gold with Slovenia's Tina Maze. 

"When you cross the finish line and you're leading, you feel you've done something nobody is going to do for the next four years," Gut said of the unique feeling of racing at Olympics. 

"When you're behind, you know that you have to wait four years to have another chance to be fast."

Still, top contenders need not all worry: Ligety won giant slalom gold as expected and Hoefl-Riesch continued her Olympic medal haul in Sochi with gold in the super combined and silver in Super-G 

Other champions like Maze, Miller, Anna Fenninger of Austria and Croatian Ivica Kostelic have also ensured that big names are getting their day in the sun.

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