Mancuso’s Olympics: 2 surprise silvers, Vonn flap |

Mancuso’s Olympics: 2 surprise silvers, Vonn flap

AP Sports Writer
Julia Mancuso of the United States is interviewed in the finish area after finishing the second run of the Women's giant slalom, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

WHISTLER, British Columbia – Julia Mancuso’s Olympics included two surprising silver medals and a failed defense of her giant slalom title under odd circumstances she thought “seemed unfair.”

The 25-year-old from Squaw Valley, Calif., also left the Alpine mountain with what she hopes is the last word about her relationship with Lindsey Vonn.

The fascination with exactly how much ill will there might be between the U.S. teammates and lifelong rivals produced as much buzz as anything the past two weeks at Whistler, and Mancuso insisted Thursday the issue was “taken a little out of proportion.”

“We’re both very different, and we have both gotten here to these Games and gotten our medals in completely opposite ways,” Mancuso said after closing her Vancouver Games by finishing eighth behind Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg in the giant slalom. “I’m sure that fuels the fire even more.”

Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo., came to the Olympics as a focal point because of all of her recent success, including the past two World Cup overall titles and 31 World Cup race wins, the most by a U.S. woman. She was a key part of NBC’s promotional campaign and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Vancouver preview issue.

Mancuso, meanwhile, was not seen as a serious medal favorite because she had not been on a World Cup podium in two years, in part a result of hip surgery and back problems. Asked last week about being under the radar, she said: “I think that our ski team, in general, deserved a little more attention, because a lot of the media was all about Lindsey, and I think that we have a lot of great girls on our ski team.”

As it turns out, Vonn won gold, and Mancuso silver, in the opening downhill. Mancuso added a silver in the super-combined, when Vonn hooked a tip on a gate and went off-course. Vonn then added a bronze in the super-G, while Mancuso was ninth.

Fast-forward to Wednesday. Mancuso’s medal chances in the giant slalom were dashed when her first run was interrupted because she left the starting gate not knowing that Vonn, of all people, was crashing ahead of her. They skied one right after the other, with a shorter-than-usual interval, because of driving snow and dense fog; officials were hoping to squeeze everyone in before the course deteriorated too much.

Mancuso was forced to stop her race, make her way down to the finish area, then hitch a ride on a snowmobile back to the top. Frustrated and exhausted, she finally got her first run in, but was 18th, 1.30 seconds behind the leader, too far back to have a realistic chance at a medal.

“We all have some story. That mine happened to be on TV, or we all experienced it, it seemed unfair,” Mancuso said, “but I … know it all comes down to safety first, and you have to respect every decision made by everyone working on the hill to make it safe and fun for everyone.”

Bad weather forced the second run to be postponed, and while Mancuso turned in Thursday’s third-best time, it was nowhere near enough to contend. Instead, she finished 0.55 second behind Rebensburg’s two-run time of 2 minutes, 27.11 seconds. Slovenia’s Tina Maze won the silver, and Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl the bronze.

“I can’t wonder ‘What if?'” Mancuso said. “It’s just really a crazy situation that I can’t even wrap my head around.”

On Wednesday, after her fall, Vonn said she was “hurt” by “some negative things” Mancuso had said about her at these Olympics.

Mancuso sought to defuse the situation Thursday, calling Vonn “the greatest female American skier we’ve had” and making sure everyone realized she did not blame Vonn for their dual misfortune in the giant slalom.

“It’s just funny the way the universe works. I saw Lindsey after, and I know that she felt really sorry, and you know it’s really not her fault, of course,” Mancuso said. “And so, for that to be sort of out there – that had nothing to do with anything about our relationship. Like I said before, the way that it came across, that it was a media attention fight or something like that, is just ridiculous.”

When the pair crossed paths later Wednesday, Vonn apologized for the way things went on the hill.

As for the interest in their off-slope interaction, Vonn’s husband, Thomas, said: “I think it’s kind of silly. They have a cordial relationship. They’re competitors on the hill and want to beat each other. But they leave it on the hill. When they’re off the hill, they’re fine. I don’t see a problem there.”

Both born in 1984, they’ve raced against each other ever since they were kids, working their way up the ranks.

As recently as a few seasons ago, Mancuso cried after getting edged by Vonn in a World Cup race. At the 2005 world championships, Vonn shed tears after she finished fourth twice while Mancuso was earning two bronzes.

“Well, they’re just both really passionate about ski racing and being on the top of the podium,” U.S. skier Sarah Schleper of Vail said after finishing 14th in the GS. “They love winning and, I mean, we all want to be there, too.”

Vonn’s last chance at Vancouver was in Friday’s slalom, racing with a plastic brace protecting the right pinkie she broke in Wednesday’s tumble.

Mancuso, though, is heading home after declining a spot on the U.S. slalom roster.

Still, her luggage will be a little heavier than when she arrived.

“I have two silver medals. Yeah, it could have been more,” Mancuso said, “but I mean, just to have anything – leaving here with any sort of medal clunking around my neck – is really a dream come true.”

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