Mancuso finds ‘energy’ from fallen friend to finish eighth
WHISTLER, B.C. – It was a day that went from bad to awful. Julia Mancuso had all but lost her chance to defend her Olympic gold medal in giant slalom by no fault of her own. And when she arrived back at her U.S. team housing Wednesday afternoon, she learned that a dear friend, freeskier C.R. Johnson, had died in an accident at their home mountain of Squaw Valley in northern California.
With one final run remaining for her at these Olympics on Thursday, Mancuso said she felt tapped out for motivation. But she found something, a “hidden piece of energy” that she said propelled her to the finish line with the day’s third-fastest run to finish eighth.
“I really had nothing to lose,” said Mancuso, who finished with a combined time of 2 minutes, 27.66 seconds in a race won by Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg.
It wasn’t the result Mancuso had hoped for, but the best she could do under trying circumstances. Her first foray onto the course Wednesday was wiped out unintentionally by teammate Lindsey Vonn, who crashed while skiing one spot ahead of Mancuso.
After a restart, 13 skiers later than her original spot, on a slower course, with snow starting to fall, Mancuso was 1.03 seconds back of the morning pace setter, Elisabeth Goergl. With Wednesday’s second run postponed and then moved to Thursday morning, Mancuso knew there was no realistic chance for another medal to add to the two silvers she had already claimed here.
Johnson’s death, though, was a reminder of why she skis, she said.
“Coming here today for me, after everything yesterday, was just like, ‘Go out there and love skiing,'” she said, between taking a pause to wipe away tears and gather herself. “I’m so proud to be from a place, Squaw Valley, and there are so many incredible skiers from there and it’s been a rough couple of years.”
Mancuso grew up skiing with Johnson, 26, a star of ski films and a former Winter X Games competitor who died Wednesday when he caught an edge on an exposed rock and tumbled through a rock field at Squaw Valley.
She remembered when she was competing at the 2002 Olympics and Johnson was in Salt Lake City skiing in a quarterpipe exhibition. The two spent time walking around town together and catching up with friends. Mancuso added that she was inspired by Johnson’s love for the sport. He returned to skiing hazardous terrain after an accident that nearly took his life in 2005, when he collided with another skier and was hospitalized with a coma.
She said she also knew Shane McConkey, a Vancouver native and a Squaw Valley legend who was a pioneer in the sports of extreme skiing and BASE jumping, and who died last March in Italy during a failed BASE jump attempt for a film shoot.
“Just two guys going out and living their dream and pushing their limits,” Mancuso said. “Skiing is not a safe sport all the time, especially when you want to push it. But it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. And I love it.”
Mancuso said her dream, growing up bashing gates at Squaw Valley, was to be an Olympic champion. She certainly has lived out those fantasies, having won the gold medal in GS at the 2006 Turin Games to go with her silver in downhill and super combined from these Games.
“Really, it’s better than I could have imagined,” she said. “These two weeks have been a dream come true. After winning my gold medal at Torino at the end of 2006, it was like, you know what, this is what my career is all about is going to the Olympics and performing in the Olympic stadium.”
Between the Vancouver Olympics and the Turin Games, she ran the gamut before winding back up on the podium here. She challenged for a World Cup overall title in 2007, but then failed to turn in one top-three result the last two winters while struggling to overcome nagging hip and back injuries.
In the interim, Vonn, her main rival from way back when the two were teenagers, became the most dominant skier on the women’s circuit, and came into the Vancouver Games as the medal favorite in three of five events.
After Mancuso won her two medals last week, sharing the podium with Vonn in Wednesday’s downhill, she told Sports Illustrated that all the attention on Vonn had hindered the potential of other skiers on the U.S. team heading into the Olympics.
Vonn responded Wednesday after her crash by saying she was “hurt” by the comments.
“Yes, we’re competitors, but I always support her,” she said.
Mancuso on Thursday said that there was no rift between her and Vonn. The two respect each other as competitors and the story was “blown out of proportion,” she said.
“I saw Lindsey afterward and I felt really sorry and, you know, it’s really not her fault,” she said of the crash and her restart. “The way that it came across was that it was a media attention fight or something like that is just ridiculous. What I said before coming into these Games is that Lindsey is a very well-respected athlete and she really came in here with some incredible results, I mean phenomenal.”
She added that her intent with her comments was to show that there was more to the women’s team than just Vonn.
“Not so much the media attention at Lindsey or saying that I should get more, it’s more that our whole team’s been doing so well and I really just hope that everyone can appreciate every single girl on the U.S. Ski Team out there doing their best,” she said.
She said she certainly did that at Whistler, considering what was at stake, and what she dealt with while she was here.
“There really were some unlucky things happening with my other races [where she didn’t medal], but I really feel like sometimes, in ski racing especially, luck just has to be on your side,” she said. “I’m just proud of every single situation I came into in these Games. I did my best.”
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