The most coveted award: Gold or crystal?

Is an Olympic gold medal more important to an elite skier than a World Cup title?

If you're in the business of beating people (think Phil Jackson, not Tony Soprano), what's more important? The glory of beating them on the one day the entire world is paying attention? Coming through under the ultimate pressure of a championship moment? Or beating them when no one is watching, winning week after week, methodically breaking them down until your opponents are so humbled they have no choice but to admit you're better than they are.

In the United States, it's easy to assume that Olympic gold is every ski racer's dream. While the sport reigns supreme across the European Alps, let's face it, Franz Klammer's famous Innsbruck schuss in 1976 barely earns him a ticket for the nosebleed section of the American sports landscape.

Certainly no athlete would turn down a coveted spot in the Olympic tradition, but for some members of the U.S. ski team, there is just something about that World Cup crystal globe.

With the final races for the World Cup titles scheduled Wednesday through Sunday, ESPN.com talked to some of the Americans competing for the season's highest honor.

Bode Miller, 27, has won both awards. A three-time Olympic medalist, he's in contention to win super-G, giant slalom and downhill – plus the overall World Cup title.

What would you rather win, a World Cup title or an Olympic medal?

"I have won both, so it's hard for me to say. If I had to choose, I would say the World Cup Overall. Olympic gold brings more media attention and more publicity, and I kind of hate that.

"I guess if someone wants to call themselves the Olympic champion for the rest of their life, then that's the one for them, but I'm not concerned with the titles or the attention. For me, there's more value in being the best all season long."

What's the coolest trophy in sports?

"No question, the Lombardi Trophy. Especially when my Patriots have their hands on it. My hands on the big crystal globe, though? That might actually rival it."

Lindsey Kildow, 20, is in third place for the women's super-G title.

What would you rather win, a World Cup title or an Olympic medal?

"Olympic gold. It only happens every four years; it's kind of the ultimate. It's something you strive for your entire life. You don't usually get more than a handful of tries in your whole lifetime. To be at your best on that one day, that's one of the greatest challenges for any athlete."

Does the added money and exposure that comes along with an Olympic medal weigh on your decision?

"You don't sit and count how much money you have after every race. You make what you make, and you race to win. At the end of the day you need money to survive, but it's not like I'm motivated by money. [An Olympic medal] definitely opens more opportunities for a person."

What is the coolest trophy in sports?

"NBA MVP trophy is pretty damn cool. But other ones are too ridiculous. The NHL one is too big. It's not always the size, the crystal is just it's not your average ordinary award. It's unique and special."

Kirsten Clark, 27, won a world championship silver medal in super-G in 2003.

What would you rather win, a World Cup title or an Olympic medal?

"That's tough. Both would be sweet. I think having a WC title at the end of the year would be more meaningful.

"An Olympic medal, don't get me wrong, it would be a great accomplishment, but you need a little bit of luck on days like that whereas a World Cup title you can perform from November until March and prove that you were the best one over and over.

"In the Olympics, there's more pressure because there's one day, one race and you have to try to perform. It's definitely a different demon than a World Cup race. There's all kinds of pressure to perform."

Julia Mancuso, who turns 21 on Wednesday, was a bronze medalist at worlds in super-G and giant slalom.

What would you rather win, a World Cup title or an Olympic medal?

"They're different for sure. I think a World Cup title would be sweet ... I don't know ...

"Wait. You have to distinguish between what color medal. After going to world champs and getting a medal and seeing the whole scene. It's pretty cool because you have to do it on one day, but to win a title you have to be pretty consistent. I can't answer that – it's hard ... I guess I always wanted to win the overall [World Cup title]. The overall crystal globe, the big one, and a gold medal at the Olympics."

Cheater. What about all the money you would make for an Olympic medal?

"I don't really know how much money anything makes, so, I find out at the end of the year when I get a check and I'm like, 'Oh sweet!'"

Daron Rahlves, 31, also in competition for the downhill title, was the 2001 world champion in super-G and took silver and bronze at worlds in downhill and giant slalom respectively.

What would you rather win, a World Cup title or an Olympic medal?
Right now? World Cup title. That's what my biggest goal is this year is taking the DH [downhill] title. That and Olympic glory.

I'm going to be greedy. I'm not leaving until I get both.

What does each signify to you?

"WC title – stands out the most. It's consistency, coming in every single weekend and performing at the top of your game. Being the number one guy the whole year. It's lot tougher, you can get hurt, you can miss races, there's weather. That's just part of what happens in sport, and you've got to deal with it. You're not just a one-shot wonder.

"An Olympic medal – is being totally on your game and being set up for that one day.
To perform under that amount of pressure and come through on that day, that's huge, as well. There's a lot of guys who win world cups and crack under that pressure."

What's the coolest trophy in sports?
"That'd be the crystal globe in skiing. I think it looks the coolest out of any trophy I've seen. That's the one I'm chasing, so it's got to look the best to me."

Erik Schlopy, 32, won a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships.

Which would you rather win, Olympic Gold or a World Cup title?

"World Cup title, no question. Because that signifies that you're the best skier out there. Championship medals are a one-day event, and there's 10 or 15 guys who actually have a chance to win it. A medal's easier to market so the Ski Team loves it when their athletes win one but for us, it's not as highly regarded."

What's the coolest looking trophy in sports?

"I guess I'd have to say the Stanley Cup because you get to use it for a day and drink soup out of it or whatever you want to do with it. Obviously the crystal globe is pretty cool, too."

Kristina Koznick, 29, is currently third in World Cup slalom standings.

Which would you rather win, Olympic Gold or a World Cup title?

"I'm so torn. I've always said in the past, a WC title because I think being dominant for a year speaks volumes about a skier.

"But the thing is being from the U.S., a gold medal is kind of the ticket for the rest of your life, so I'd have to say an Olympic medal."

You've gotten second twice in the season slalom standings, has that made you bitter about a World Cup title?

The years I was second, and this year I have the chance to end up second again, were still good ones. I've never put together a season where I've dominated and deserved to be the best in the world, so it makes me motivated not bitter.

"Medals on the other hand, make me bitter."

What is your track record on those? Can I ask?

"Two Olympic Games. Two crashes.

"Five World Championships -- eighth is my best finish, and 25th or something in '95. I was back with the people whose country abbreviations I didn't even recognize. And then three years I crashed."

Ok enough about that, what is the coolest trophy out there?

"I guess Wimbledon. I'm a sucker for individual sports. It just seems like a prestigious award. Um, the Stanley Cup is ugly, it's huge. I don't know, I'd have to say the crystal globe is pretty cool. Don't have one yet, I'm still plugging away."