Olympics blog: Vonn-Mancuso post-crash fallout
Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
A week after they were all smiles and hugs, draped in American flags, and posing for photographers atop the podium together, U.S. skiing stars Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso couldn’t have been more distant Wednesday. America’s sweethearts in speedsuits, rivals since they were junior racers, aren’t getting along any more at these Games.
At least that’s the way things seemed following Wednesday’s first giant slalom run, where Vonn crashed and fractured her right pinkie and, in the process, all but wiped out Mancuso’s chances of defending her Olympic gold from four years ago. Mancuso, skiing right after Vonn in 18th, was flagged off course midway through her run as a precaution and directed to ski to the bottom and head back up top for a re-do.
Before heading back up the mountain, Mancuso’s frustration was visible for everyone to see. She was in tears. She used some choice four-letter words that the TV cameras caught.
And then, with snow continuing to fall, and the track deteriorating, she had to push out of the start again, in 31st, and ski another run on tired legs. She wound up in 18th, a full 1.3 seconds behind first-run leader Elisabeth Goergl of Austria.
It was a twist of fate that only added more scrutiny to the relationship between the two U.S. skiers. Mancuso certainly gave the press scrum at the bottom of the mountain something to run with when she told Sports Illustrated that other skiers on the U.S. Team, herself included, were struggling to reach their potential because of all the attention focused on Vonn before these Olympics.
Not necessarily the message the U.S. Ski Team – looking to avoid another controversy after the 2006 Turin debacle – was hoping to see in a cover story highlighting its medal winners at these Olympics.
To be sure, the press has tried to play up a feud between Mancuso and Vonn before. Before the Aspen World Cup stop in the last Olympic season, a USA Today writer characterized the relationship between the two as similar to the intense feud between former U.S. women’s downhill stars Picabo Street and Hilary Lindh.
Just days after that story came out, however, Vonn and Mancuso both said there was no bad blood and that the story was blown out of proportion.
Vonn added that, if anything, Mancuso was her greatest asset because “she pushes me to be better.”
That was certainly the case in the downhill last week, when Mancuso put down a scorching run and Vonn’s husband, Thomas, radioed up to the top of the mountain to tell his wife that she would have to ski to her absolute limit to beat it. Everything came into focus, Vonn said after that. She didn’t have to take on the world. She just had to try to beat Mancuso, which she did.
On Wednesday, Mancuso was trying to do the same thing, looking to top her teammate in Vonn’s weakest discipline and add another medal to her haul at these Games. While she may not have Vonn’s two overall titles and her U.S. women’s record of World Cup wins, she does have more Olympic medals at this point – a gold and two silvers to Vonn’s gold and bronze.
Vonn’s crash, however, unintentionally wiped out both skiers’ chances for a medal, barring a superhuman second run from Mancuso today.
Mancuso said the setback was “probably the worst possible thing that could happen in the Olympics.”
Vonn said she felt “terrible.”
She also told reporters she wanted “Julia to have a good run” and that “I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other teammates.” She added: “Yes, we’re competitors, but I always support her. It definitely has hurt me that she has said some negative things about me.”
Mancuso, for one, didn’t take the bait from reporters when asked to elaborate on her remarks in SI.
Don’t be surprised if she plays down the feud today, just as she and Vonn did a few years back.
Although one thing is for certain: No one isn’t paying attention to Mancuso anymore. She’ll be watched just as closely as her teammate in the remaining days of these Olympics.
That has a little to do with the supposed feud with her teammate and more to do with how exceptionally well she has skied here.
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