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United States’ Julia Mancuso arrives in the finish area during a women’s downhill training run Thursday.

US alpine stars take different approaches

Associated Press photos
United States’ Bode Miller delivered the fastest opening downhill training run ahead of Sunday’s race, finishing in 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds.

– Between them, they have appeared in seven Olympic Games and won eight Olympic medals.

No American male skier has earned more medals than Bode Miller, whose five include a surprising and inspiring gold in the super-combined four years ago. No American woman has won more alpine skiing medals than Julia Mancuso, whose three include gold in giant slalom eight years ago.

They arrive here, to the peaks high above the Mzytma River, with similar goals and vastly different approaches. Miller is 36, in Russia for his fifth Olympics. He is searching for inspiration.

“I’ve kind of been here and done this,” Miller said Thursday. “Not to take anything away from the Olympics, but it just isn’t the same after you’ve done this as many times as I have.”

Mancuso is 29, an Olympian for a fourth time. Everywhere she turns, she sees a reason to excel.

“My Olympic experience is really exciting, and I just get fueled by the energy,” Mancuso said. “And it doesn’t matter if this is my first time or my fourth time. I feel the same.”

They are, in the days before the Sochi Olympics, the pillars of an American alpine team that carries with it expectations founded on both a wildly successful 2013 World Cup season and the eight medals won four years ago in Vancouver - including gold, silver and bronze for Miller and a pair of silvers for Mancuso.

They know, too, that more of the country’s interest will fall to them, both because four-time World Cup overall champ Lindsey Vonn is back in the U.S., lost for these Games to a knee injury, and because the two other potential stars – Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin – don’t take to the mountain before the Games are a week old.

And even as they were the best Americans in Thursday’s initial downhill training run – Miller was the fastest man, finishing in 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds, Mancuso the third-fastest woman – their differences appeared stark.

“I guess maybe perspective and age and stuff, you see the advantages of being not just young but being maybe a little bit more naïve and a little bit more excitable,” Miller said at an afternoon news conference, seated next to a pair of Olympic rookies.

He said all this while circuitously identifying himself as a favorite to medal here, because he is far more fit than he was prior to Vancouver, when he said he got by mostly on guile.

Mancuso, too, has a good chance to medal here, both because of her recent solid results – three straight top-10 finishes around a training run win in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy – and because of her reputation for embracing the occasions that make others shrivel.

In 2010, she was coming off an injury-plagued season and yet won as many medals as the much-ballyhooed Vonn, silver in both the downhill and combined.

“I think there’s just so many good skiers out there who just can’t pull it together on race day, and it’s always been about being mentally there,” Mancuso said. “You also see racers that they just can’t ski for crap, but they just kill it. I think it’s 99 percent mental.”

Miller and Mancuso both know the importance of emotion and enthusiasm and desire at an event that happens once every four years.

“I can’t say I’m not excited,” Miller said. “But hopefully opening ceremonies will stir some of my emotions.”

Emotions that, in Mancuso, are already stirred.