Mancuso set to tackle downhill |

Mancuso set to tackle downhill

Shauna Farnell
Associated PressJulia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif. brushes past a gate during the 2nd run of the Women's Combined Slalom at the Winter Olympic Games in Sestriere Colle, Italy Friday.

SESTRIERE COLLE, Italy – Julia Mancuso can relax a little at this point in the Olympics.

After posting the best result for American women with a seventh place Wednesday in the Olympic downhill and getting the slalom portion of her combined event taken care of,

Mancuso can breathe a little easier.

“I got my first Olympic race out of the way with the downhill, so my nerves aren’t anything compared to that,” said Mancuso after Friday night’s slalom portion of the Olympic combined event, which wraps up Saturday with downhill.

“I don’t train slalom any more at all, so it was really hard,” she said. “The downhill for me is easier, because I can just ski. The slalom is where you can actually take risks.”

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For someone who doesn’t train a lot of slalom, Mancuso stands in 11th place going into the downhill. The 21-year-old from Olympic Valley, Calif., is ranked ninth in the world this season in combined, super-G and giant slalom and is eighth in downhill.

Although she finished eighth in slalom in last year’s world championships, slalom is clearly Mancuso’s weakest discipline. Among the likes of Croatia’s Janica Kostelic and Sweden’s Anja Paerson, when it comes to slalom, Mancuso feels she has something to learn.

“I feel I’m in a different league when I ski slalom,” she said. “All the girls have been really impressive this year. In most of our races, the time gap between the top three and the top 10 has been huge. There’s a lot of work to be done in that part of the field, myself included.”

Making or breaking a combined event, racers say, falls far more to the slalom portion of the event than downhill. Mancuso said it favors those who excel more in slalom than downhill.

“The combined really needs to change format,” Mancuso said. “We’ve had some super combined (consisting of one downhill and one slalom run) on the World Cup. That’s a pretty good format. Or make the downhill longer and more difficult.”

Because Friday’s downhill combined race was postponed to Saturday, racers had to flip-flop their typical combined mentality, skiing the slalom first.

“For me, it makes me focus on each race singularly,” Mancuso said. “It’s not so much tactics. You just have to go out there and have your best slalom race, because that’s the only place you can win or lose the combined. It’s hard to take risks in the downhill.”

Mancuso finished 13th in the Olympic combined event in 2002. She said the atmosphere this time around is very different than it was in Salt Lake City. For the Torino Games, rather than staying in the Olympic village, Mancuso is living in her own RV. And besides the large fan club she brought along and the natural acknowledgement she receives for her very Italian last name, things are eerily quieter in Italy than they were in Utah.

“At the Salt Lake Games, there were a lot more people and the crowd was a lot more excited,” Mancuso said. “Maybe it was hard (to draw attendance for Friday’s slalom), because it was storming. But it just seems like we’re so far up here (in Sestriere, two hours from Torino), so it’s hard for people to come out.”

The Italians working for the Games, Mancuso said, are really into it. Those watching, as far as she can tell, are not.

“As far as all the course workers and the crew, they’re really excited and they’ve done a great job,” she said. “I haven’t noticed too much Italian spunk in the crowd, but it’s been a really fun time. Everyone involved with volunteering is doing a really good job.”

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