“I don’t care how I look as long as I can ski,” said
super combined bronze medalist Anja Paerson,
miraculously recovering from her downhill crash.
It was down to Riesch and Vonn, and Riesch (pic-
tured far left) nails that slalom course every time. She
did, leading Mancuso by nearly a second. Vonn was
holding her lead and about halfway down the course
when she hooked a gate and lost her right ski. The
race was over. It was Riesch’s. But there was Man-
cuso, too, beaming with another silver medal.
“I came here to put the past behind me, move for-
ward and really rip it up,” Mancuso said after the
race, also admitting that her slalom skills had been
hiding. “I’ve had great training days in slalom, so I
wasn’t surprised I could ski slalom. But I was sur-
prised that it was that fast.”
Kaylin Richardson came in 17th and Leanne Smith,
who crashed during slalom training between runs,
made it through all the gates to take 21st.
With three Olympic medals — in three disciplines
— Mancuso became the best female Olympic alpine
skier ever in the United States.
Julia Mancuso found her slalom in the super combined.
How Julia Mancuso Did It
In ski racing, any coach or World Cup veteran will tell you that recovering from injury and building back up to top
speed is a matter of baby steps.
U.S. women’s head coach Jim Tracy was telling this to Julia Mancuso about a month before the Olympic Games,
when she was in tears in Cortina d’Ampezzo, frustrated with her results, her equipment — just about everything.
She came into the Vancouver Games with a two-year drought of podium finishes. The last time she’d landed in the
top three at a World Cup was February 2008 — in Whistler.
But then she showed everyone that making a comeback can happen in giant steps, too — overnight, almost.
The 25-year-old Squaw Valley native landed two Olympic medals and came close to winning two more. She took
the silver behind teammate Lindsey Vonn in the downhill, then went out and put down what could have been one of
the best slalom runs in her career to land another silver in the super combined. She did this following two seasons
of no podiums, a lot of frustration and a considerable amount of
“I’ve been just put everything else behind me,” was Mancuso’s
explanation for her sudden surge back to success. “I struggled
with a back injury last year. I really struggled to get top 30. The
beginning of this World Cup season I was a little nervous because
I really wanted to be back in the top 15 and have a good start
number for the races. I’ve spent a little more time on baby steps
instead of go all-out every race. All of those moments have just
been to come here to perform.”
Two seasons ago, Mancuso talked about back pain at virtually ev-
ery race. Her mother said she could barely walk, let alone ski. Her
best result of the season was a sixth place in the Semmering giant
slalom. By the time World Championships rolled around, Mancuso,
so famously great at big events (she was a five-time junior world champion and had taken a bronze in the 2005 Worlds
and silver in 2007, culminating with her Olympic gold in 2006) was so frustrated at last season’s World Champs that
she actually exited the course at one point in the middle of a race. So when did her turnaround begin?
“It was really last spring,” Tracy said. “She had a devastating season in her mind. When that happens you really have
to take charge of what things went wrong and how to correct them. Sometimes you see athletes when they get their
first big success at an event such as Turin, you have lots of new friends, everyone knows what you do ... it’s easy
to get overwhelmed. The skiing part is there, but there’s 100 other athletes who want to be there. It’s not that she
was skiing badly, it’s just a lot of others were skiing a lot better. So we got back to what we’d been doing before ...
getting training in. She didn’t have quite enough training that she needed to have, especially because of her injury.
She accomplished that, getting healthy. She was able to train a lot.”
After a summer of Pilates and working with a specialized chiropractor, Mancuso was feeling good again. She
achieved the top 15 she’d hoped for several times coming into the Games — but not much more than that. Her top
finish before Whistler was eighth in the Cortina downhill. That was a tight race, and Mancuso was just two tenths off
the podium. So her Olympic downhill silver wasn’t a total surprise. What was surprising was the slalom portion of her
super combined, when she put down a run that was almost on par with some of the world’s top slalom specialists. “So
I found my slalom,” Mancuso said, saying that she too was “amazed” with her run. “It’s been hiding somewhere.”
“She hid it from all of us,” Tracy agreed, shaking his head. “She was keeping it behind closed doors. When you
have a tough year and you’re a four-event skier, it’s tough to get everything back all at once. It’s just not going to
Or is it? Two weeks before the Games Mancuso, sitting on the snow crying after the Cortina giant slalom, blaming
her tears on “equipment problems.” She said she has struggled with getting her equipment dialed in since FIS regulations changed two seasons ago, mandating equipment she described as “beefy” and “hard on the body.”
Tracy said that Mancuso had a breakthrough with equipment-bonding about a week before the Games on the training
hill. Just in time. (View Mancuso’s downhill at http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=69a4f57a-cb15-4216-
936b-f28be6dbb68b.html#w+downhill+j+mancuso+usa and her super combined at http://www.nbcolympics.com/
video/ assetid=afefcb34-5fdc-4234-98e3-fb4b230d7257.html#mancuso+sterling+silver+super+combi) — S.F.