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Women Salvaging American Hopes in Sochi (So Far)

<p>Without the women, Team USA wouldn't have much of a showing in the early days at Sochi -- but the men are starting to make a comeback.</p>
Silver Medalist, Australia's Torah Bright; Gold Medalist, U.S. Kaitlyn Farrington; and Bronze Medalist, U.S. Kelly Clark celebrate the Women's Snowboard Halfpipe Flower Ceremony.JAVIER SORIANO / AFP - Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia — The women of Team USA have been carrying America’s Olympic dreams. On Thursday, a medal-stand sweep at slopestyle skiing started a comeback for the guys.

The soaring, slang-loving snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg captured the first U.S. hardware of these games, a gold in the slopestyle. After that, with the exception of a bronze in team figure skating, the American men didn’t touch a foot to the medal stand for four days.

That streak ended when three Americans — Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper — dominated the pipes and jumps of the slopestyle course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. They took gold, silver and bronze to give the United States a badly needed boost in the medal count.

Before that, the women had shouldered the team. The latest example came Wednesday night at the halfpipe, where Katilyn Farrington captured the gold and Kelly Clark the bronze. Clark became the most decorated American snowboarder of all time.

“I just can’t believe this was my first Olympics,” Farrington said after the race, with an American flag draped over her shoulders. “I was hoping to just make finals.”

Women won seven of the first eight individual medals for the United States in Sochi — two golds, a silver and four bronzes. And they’re doing it without skier Lindsey Vonn, perhaps the biggest name in the expected Sochi contingent, who pulled out because of injury.

Image: The Today Show Gallery of Olympians
Jamie Anderson of the USA Snowboarding team poses in the Olympic Park with her gold medal.Scott Halleran / Getty Images

The women salvaged what they could of a disappointing run for the stars and stripes in the early days of the games. The U.S., with three gold medals through Wednesday, trailed Germany’s six and four each for Canada, Norway and the Netherlands.

Through the first five days of the Sochi Olympics, the Americans won less than 10 percent of the medals, nine of 96. At the same point in the Vancouver Games, they had won more than 16 percent, 14 out of 84.

“Whenever we start predicting medals, we get way off track,” Scott Blackmun, the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press. “And don’t forget there’s almost two full weeks left.”

The American showing has included some high-profile disappointments, mostly by the men.

Shani Davis and Shaun White, two of the most recognizable faces of the American team in Sochi, each had the chance to become the first American man to win gold at the same event at three straight Olympics.

It didn’t happen for either of them. In Tuesday night’s finals at a halfpipe turned to slush, White slid in his first run and came up just short in his second run. He finished in fourth place at an event he ruled — not just ruled, but defined — at the last two Olympics.

Then, on Wednesday night at Adler Arena, Davis got off to a slow start and came in a stunning eighth at the 1,000 meters in speedskating. After the race, he put his hands to his knees and stared down in dejection.

Image: Medal Ceremony - Winter Olympics Day 5
Bronze medalist Erin Hamlin of the United States celebrates during the medal ceremony for the Women's Luge Singles.Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

“This one hurts me a lot, but kudos to the people who were able to go out there and achieve their dreams,” he told Reuters.

Another prominent American man, Bode Miller, competing in his fifth Winter Olympics, came up short in the men’s downhill with an eighth-place finish.

There’s more hope for the guys: Ted Ligety, known as Shred, has yet to ski. And the Americans are a threat in the men’s hockey tournament, which opened Wednesday. The United States opens play against Slovakia on Thursday.