Alpine skiing

U.S.'s Lindsey Vonn out, Julia Mancuso well behind in women's giant slalom at Vancouver Games

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Lindsey Vonn could have raced here in the giant slalom Wednesday, could have taken the lead with a smooth run over the top portion of the course, and then crashed -- breaking a finger -- and ski sages would have spoken about her talent, but acknowledged that her lack of training in her weakest event made a true medal pursuit unlikely.

Julia Mancuso could have raced here, too, and been charging down the course on pace with the leaders. She could have been stopped mid-run, however, because there was a crash ahead of her, and thus been forced to slide to the bottom of the mountain, take a snowmobile back to the top, and do it all over again.

The craziest part of a hectic Alpine ski competition here: All of that indeed happened Wednesday. But the dynamic it created could never have been conjured up in advance. Vonn's crash not only ended her hopes of a third medal, but it stopped Mancuso's run as well. With that, by complete coincidence, Vonn all but ended Mancuso's chances to repeat as Olympic champion in the giant slalom.

"I feel terrible for Julia," Vonn said. "It is absolutely not what I wanted."

"It's really a bummer when you come into the race that you've been waiting for your whole career," Mancuso said, "and something happens like that."

The logistics read like this: The first of two runs was completed, and Austria's Elisabeth Goergl posted the fastest time. The second run was postponed by snow and fog until Thursday, when the medal winners will finally be determined, weather permitting.

Yet the lack of medals sapped nothing from the day's events. The most important matter: Two of the most decorated and talented female skiers in American history -- rivals who have never been close -- had an unlikely on-course encounter that was nearly as dramatic as any of their medal-winning runs.

"Today is like the most bizarre day I've ever been to," said Mancuso's mother, Andrea.

Though Mancuso had already taken silver in both the downhill (in which Vonn won gold) and the super combined (in which Vonn crashed), Wednesday figured to be her best chance to shine by herself. Not only did she win gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics, but giant slalom is by far Vonn's worst discipline. She has never finished in the top three of a World Cup giant slalom, she failed to finish four of six GS races this season, and injuries had limited her training.

When Vonn got into the starting gate Wednesday, Goergl had just posted the fastest time, 1 minute 15.28 seconds. Vonn immediately started cutting into it. At the first checkpoint, she was .15 of a second ahead. At the next, she was .16. At the last one -- nearly a minute into the run -- her lead was .35 of a second.

"To put four tenths on this field . . . is amazing," said Thomas Vonn, Lindsey's husband, de facto coach and closest adviser. "She was in contention to win."

But as she approached the last crest on the course, she laid into her left ski hard. She hit a bump and was tossed upright. Her right hand fell hard into the snow. The ensuing crash became inevitable, and she was tossed into the protective fencing at the side of the course.

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