Vonn fails to finish race; Mancuso wins 2nd silver
WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) - February 18, 2010 -- Lindsey Vonn stepped gingerly in her brown hiking boots, a grimace betraying the pain in her bruised right shin and the sting of a fall that prevented her from completing Thursday's super-combined race at the Olympics.
As Vonn moved from the finish area toward a throng of autograph-seekers, a chant rang out from fans a few yards away: "Ju-li-a! Ju-li-a! Ju-li-a!"
The cheers were for Vonn's teammate, Julia Mancuso, who was making her way over after finishing second to Germany's Maria Riesch in the super-combined to earn her second silver in two days. Yes, make room for another U.S. skiing sensation at these Winter Games.
"I didn't expect that," Mancuso said. "Such a great feeling of accomplishment and really just believing in everything I was doing."
It's the nearly forgotten Mancuso, not the much-hyped Vonn, who owns two 2010 medals. It's the recently mediocre Mancuso, not the World Cup-dominating Vonn, who now is tied with Bode Miller for most career Olympic Alpine medals by a U.S. skier, with three.
Mancuso gave the United States its first medal in women's Olympic combined or super-combined since 1948. And her best event is yet to come - next Wednesday's giant slalom, the race the 25-year-old from Squaw Valley, Calif., won at the 2006 Turin Games.
Hip surgery after those Olympics led to back problems that made her something of an afterthought. Meanwhile, over the past two World Cup seasons, Vonn has claimed 18 race victories en route to two overall titles. Mancuso hasn't won any World Cup race since March 2007.
But, as she put it, "I just came to these Olympics trying to put the past behind me and rip it up."
Consider it done.
"She's just attacking. She has a lot of intensity, and I think her struggling in the past few years is maybe motivating her more. And she's coming in here as an underdog. No one's really expecting her to do anything, and I think that helps," said Vonn, who has raced against Mancuso since they were kids. "When you don't have any pressure, it helps to ski aggressively. It definitely is a lot different, you know, when you have everyone looking at you and expecting you to do things."
That last part refers, of course, to Vonn herself, pegged to dominate these Olympics. She won the downhill gold ahead of Mancuso on Wednesday, but three runs in a little more than 24 hours might have been too much for Vonn's injured leg.
"It's killing me," she said, but she went out of her way to make clear that it wasn't why she lost.
Instead, a common skiing slip-up derailed her bid for a second gold in as many days. She simply failed to get her right ski around a gate during the slalom leg after entering that portion of the super-combined in first place. Vonn was 0.33 seconds ahead of Riesch and 0.80 ahead of Mancuso in the morning's downhill leg. "I hooked a tip, and that happens in ski racing all the time," Vonn said. "I just wish it wasn't at the Olympic Games."
She's planned all along to participate in all five Alpine events, but there's no guarantee her leg will allow that.
"Nothing is for sure, one way or another. Right now the schedule is to do everything, and I anticipate she will do everything," said Thomas Vonn, who serves as a coach and adviser to his wife. "But anything can change in 10 minutes."
On a split-second.
As Thursday's early leader, Vonn was the last of the top 30 skiers to do the slalom, a discipline that's toughest on her tender shin because of all the tight, back-and-forth turns through the gates.
With Riesch - who happens to be Vonn's best pal, in addition to her biggest rival at the moment - and Mancuso having raced already, and no one else having been close to perfect, Vonn figured that if she played things safe, a medal was a sure thing.
But she wasn't interested in merely any medal.
"She was definitely going for the gold, and when you do that you're taking chances," Thomas Vonn said. "We discussed a game plan prior to her going and we both agreed, 'Go for the gold. You're at the Olympics. That's where it's at."'
Explained Vonn herself: "I definitely was risking."
It didn't work out. Instead, Riesch forgot about her admittedly nervous, error-strewn, eighth-place downhill finish Wednesday to complete Thursday's two runs in a total time of 2 minutes, 9.14 seconds.
"The information our coaches gave up to the start on the radio was just 'Attack.' Nothing else. Just 'Attack the course,"' said Riesch, who's at her first Olympics. "And so I knew, OK, there's no one having problems probably, and so, just 'Full gas."'
Mancuso was 0.94 seconds slower overall on a slope changed overnight to try to make things safer after a series of scary spills Wednesday. A machine was used to slice off part of the takeoff for the last jump, and the downhill course was shortened at the top to reduce the amount of speed racers would generate heading into the slickest section.
Sweden's Anja Paerson recovered from Wednesday's most frightening crash to take the bronze for her record-tying sixth career Olympic medal in Alpine skiing.
"In a word: amazing," U.S. women's coach Jim Tracy said. "That was a fall that probably would have taken 98 percent of the field out."
Vonn now will take Friday off, resting and treating her injury before Saturday's super-G, the third of her five events and the last in which she will be the outright favorite. She also is entered in the giant slalom and slalom next week.
All eyes were on Vonn in the run-up to the Olympics, and Mancuso acknowledged, "She deserved the attention." But she added: "I think that our ski team, in general, deserved a little more attention, because a lot of the media was all about Lindsey."
Now Mancuso is sure to see more and more of the spotlight, something she seems to enjoy - as do other members of her rambunctious family.
Mancuso often dons a tiara after races, because, as she said, "It's just about celebrating your inner princess."
She's been promoting her new lingerie line called "Kiss My Tiara," and on the morning of the downhill race, family members were raising a ruckus in the back of a bus on the way to the course. Mancuso's sister, April, turned the trip into a promotional stunt, pulling down her tights to display a piece of the product line to fellow passengers, then bursting into laughter.
That same spunkiness characterizes Mancuso's skiing, particularly when the stakes are the biggest.
After tearing through her slalom run, punching gates out of the way, she celebrated by yelping and jumping and falling on her back, then kicking up her legs.
"I know that she felt like she was due a bit more interest. ... But it's hard being with a superstar like Lindsey, because Lindsey has won everything this year, and she deserves the attention she's got," said British skier Chemmy Alcott, a friend of Mancuso's. "It's hard for Julia, without the results recently, to compete with that. But I think that now, they've both earned their spot."
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