KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The U.S. ski team came into Friday's men's super-combined with the defending Olympic champ (Bode Miller) and the reigning world champion (Ted Ligety). But after a disappointing morning downhill run for both of them, it looked like it was going to take a big charge by one of them in the afternoon slalom to get onto the podium.
Miller finished 12th in the downhill, 1.43 seconds behind the current leader, Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, and Ligety was 18th, 1.93 back.
Such margins, however, are not insurmountable in a 50-seconds-plus slalom run, especially on a difficult, injected hill such as the one that will be raced on Friday afternoon.
Related: How to plan your Olympic viewing
"I think my position is OK," said Ligety, 29, of Park City, Calif., who won the world championship in this event last year and has won one of two World Cup super-combined races this season. "It's not ideal. But two seconds is not too much to make up in slalom on the downhillers."
In Vancouver four years ago, Miller, 36, of Franconia, N.H., was seventh after the downhill but had the third-fastest slalom run in the afternoon to win the gold medal.
But Miller has trained and raced very little slalom since then.
"Men and slalom have a tough relationship," Miller said. "I love it, and I hate it. It's difficult. But there will be no holding back up there. It's going to be full gas."
Both Miller and Ligety drew tough late start numbers, as the bright sun beat down on the course and made it gradually softer and softer during the race.
The start had been moved up from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. for just this reason, as international ski federation officials had sought to get the most out of the early morning harder snow conditions to try to make a fair race.
But Miller, who started 24th, and Ligety, at 22nd, were hurt by the spring-like conditions in the flats and the bottom of the course more than the early starters.
"The track was turning into basically water skiing," said U.S. skier Jared Goldberg, who was 15th.
Miller, however, owned up to a big mistake in the flats, going too low on a turn and ending up in soft snow, slowing him down. "There's no excuse for the mistake I made at the end of the meadows," he said. "That was a costly one."
Sometimes a downhiller can make a surprisingly good slalom run, but often the better slalom skiers can make up a lot of time in the afternoon.
The favorite at this point would seem to be Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, who placed seventh in the downhill and is a far better slalom skier than any of the six guys who finished ahead of him. Kostelic is a three-time Olympic silver medalist, including twice in combined and once in the regular slalom.
And don't count out France's Alexis Pinturault, who is 2.44 seconds out but is an excellent slalom skier.