Olympic notebook

Peaking Mancuso seeks to pull an upset in the giant slalom

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Four years ago, Julia Mancuso stood at the top of an Olympic race course with a tiara on her head, and skied her way to a gold medal. In the seasons since, her teammate Lindsey Vonn won two World Cup overall championships, and thus came here the pre-Games darling.

Wednesday, Mancuso could redirect the spotlight again. Though Mancuso and Vonn have taken public pains to downplay any rivalry -- Mancuso wrote on her Twitter account Sunday, "Why can't we celebrate all the good things! Lindsey is an amazing skier and guess what, so am I!" -- Wednesday's giant slalom would appear to be, on paper, a chance for Mancuso to win a third medal of these Olympics, and perhaps a struggle for Vonn.

"I'm confident in how I'm skiing," Mancuso said. "I'm really excited for the GS."

At various points over the last four years, Mancuso has felt like her gold medal from the giant slalom -- won in Sestriere, Italy, during the Turin Olympics -- has been overshadowed, not only by Vonn but also by her own struggles with injuries. "It just seems like my timing was off," she said during an interview in December.

Now, her timing appears to be perfect. She won unexpected silver medals in the downhill and the super combined earlier at these Games, and she is skiing well enough in conditions that don't suit other skiers -- "I love the snow here," she said -- that she could pull another upset Wednesday. Forget that her best finish in six giant slalom races on the World Cup circuit this season is 13th.

"Julia is a big-game skier," U.S. women's coach Jim Tracy said.

Giant slalom is Vonn's weakest discipline, the only one in which she has never had a top-three World Cup finish. She also has trained for giant slalom only once in the past month -- Monday, an off day for Alpine competition -- as she has dealt with injuries, first to her wrist and then, most notably at these Olympics, to her right shin. Her final race of the Olympics, one which Mancuso will not ski, is Friday's slalom, another discipline in which she has struggled this season.

"I have no reason to ski conservative, and I'm not going to be," Vonn said. "I'm going to ski with everything I've got. I'm going to come with all my guns blazing, and hopefully I can pull something off. But I'm definitely not expecting anything."

Vonn finally dismissed the notion that her shin is hindering her performance -- "I'm able to ski the way I want to ski," she said -- and she wrote on her Facebook page that was "happy with my skiing" after training for giant slalom.

"She is certainly fast enough, as a dark-horse threat, in both events," said Vonn's husband, former Olympic skier Thomas Vonn. She has five career podium finishes, including two wins, in slalom, and 10 top-10 finishes in giant slalom.

"It's possible," Lindsey Vonn said. "Anything's possible."

Just ask Mancuso.

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