=== Mancuso saves the day ===
By Jim Gillis, TSN Managing Editor
Sestriere, Italy (Sports Network) - It started with a thud and ended with
That was the Olympic story of the American women's alpine team in a nutshell.
The thud was Lindsey Kildow's nasty spill during a training run for the
downhill on the first Monday of the Games. It appeared to be all downhill from
there as not one medal came from this highly-regarded team of women racers.
Until Friday, that is, and bang! There was Julia Mancuso, whose stirring runs
through the falling snow on the Sises course in Sestriere produced the lone
American women's alpine medal of the 2006 Games with a somewhat unexpected
gold in the giant slalom.
"I can't believe it," Mancuso exclaimed after her winning run. "Of course I
was always dreaming of [winning a gold medal], but never believed it could be
It may have helped that defending Olympic champion Janica Kostelic did not
race Friday because of a nagging illness that had bothered her throughout the
Olympics, but there was still plenty of competition and conditions that would
have made Chilly Willy think twice about coming out of his igloo.
But Mancuso had no problems with it, although she did forget her Olympic
credential in the morning.
She started the first run ninth out of the gate and right away bettered the
time put up by three-time Torino medal winner Anja Paerson of Sweden. The time
of one minute, .89 seconds was just 18/100ths of a second better, but it was
enough to take the lead heading to the afternoon's second run.
"After the first run I was really excited to be in the lead," Mancuso said
later. "Going on the second run I was not aware that the best girls were
slower. Anja was only 18/100ths behind me. I knew I had to really put down a
run. I played it safe and took some risks where I could."
The snowy conditions made the afternoon runs look treacherous and, judging by
the early results, they were.
It wasn't Paerson, but another Swede who set the standard for the afternoon.
Anna Ottosson, who was just 13th after the opening run, attacked the course
and put together an incredible run of 1:08.29. None of the 17 racers before
her and neither of the nine after were able to approach breaking the 1:09
Finland's Tanja Poutiainen did and knocked Ottosson from the top spot. It was
then Paerson's turn, and she had no answer. The gold medal winner in
Wednesday's slalom posted only the 14th-best time of the second run and was a
It was then up to Mancuso.
Teammate Sarah Schelper did not finish a few runs earlier, but it was of no
concern to Mancuso, who recalled her home course in Squaw Valley, California.
"It felt like home, so I dug into my roots and trusted myself," Mancuso said.
Weaving her way through the snow and the gates, she was nearly perfect. Not
only did she finish cleanly, but her time of 1:08.30 was only 1/10th of a
second slower than Ottosson's top afternoon run.
"I just felt I couldn't make any mistakes in the second run because there were
so many big turns on the bottom," Mancuso continued. "I wasn't thinking of
gold, I was thinking of the podium. I was excited and nervous. It was a
difficult second run."
Maybe so, but it was just what the U.S. women's ski team needed heading out of
It ended a long Olympic drought for this group, which was on the verge of
being kept off the medal podium for the second straight Olympics. Picabo
Street's gold in the super-G at the 1998 Nagano Games was the last medal for
the American women before Friday.
"Our team was disappointed after the speed races, but everyone was proud of
how we performed," Mancuso stated. "Our skis were not running and Lindsey had
that crash. We don't have any regrets. We did our best that's what it's all
A medal, though, definitely helps.
The best finish before Friday for a U.S. woman alpine racer in the 2006 Games
was seventh -- by Kildow in the super-G and by Mancuso in the downhill.
Mancuso was, by far, the most consistent of the bunch. In addition to her
downhill performance, she finished ninth in the combined event and 11th in the
"I'm really excited," Mancuso said at a press conference afterward. "My
parents and grandparents were all here to watch and this was a great way to
end the Olympics."
With a bang, and not a thud.
02/24 11:58:11 ET