Julia Mancuso gets bronze in super combined

KRASNAYA POLYANA (USA TODAY)- Julia Mancuso again lived up to her reputation as a big-event racer Monday and added to her illustrious career at major ski championships.

Mancuso, 29, won her fourth Olympic medal by taking the bronze in the women's super-combined in spring-like conditions that she is accustomed to back home at Squaw Valley, Calif., the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

No other American woman skier - not Lindsey Vonn (who is not competing here because of recent knee surgery), not former great Picabo Street - has more than two Olympic medals.

The super-combined consists of a morning downhill run and, four hours later, an afternoon slalom run. Mancuso, who won the silver medal in this event in Vancouver four years ago, dominated the morning downhill, winning by almost half a second. But she was considered in jeopardy of failing to finish with a medal because she rarely trains slalom, a tricky discipline that takes precise movements. In fact, Mancuso hadn't raced in a slalom all season.

But she got through the gates just well enough to hang on to third place, behind Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Austria's Nicole Hosp.

Mancuso not only was skiing in weather conditions she likes, and on the softer snow warm weather produces, but also in front of a large contingent of family members who are still getting over the recent death of Mancuso's grandfather.

She tweeted in-between runs: "My grandpa is smiling down at me from heaven and saying I can be proud no matter what happens! This one's for you Grandpa Denny :)"

The result, particularly her superlative showing in the downhill, also stamps her as one of the favorites for Wednesday's women's downhill.

Mancuso's downhill time of 1 minute, 42.68 seconds put her 0.86 seconds ahead of Slovenian Tina Maze and 1.04 seconds ahead of Hoefl-Riesch, two of the big favorites in this event.

She was the last of the contenders to leave the start hut, with the scoreboard showing Hoefl-Riesch first, Hosp second and Maze third.

Mancuso's slalom time of 52.47 was the 13th-fastest, but her overall combined time of 2 minutes, 35.15 seconds knocked Maze into fourth place by just 0.10 seconds.

Hoefl-Riesch, the German superstar and close friend of Vonn who conceivably could win five medals here, won the gold with a time of 2:34.62. Hosp took the silver, 0.40 seconds back, and Mancuso was 0.13 seconds behind Hosp.

Since the 2010 Olympics, Mancuso has failed to finish 10 of 14 World Cup slalom events, with a top finish of 20th. And, during that time, she has not finished on the podium in eight World Cup super-combined events.

But once again, a major stage revealed a major talent.

Mancuso, as she did in Torino in 2006 in winning a snowy giant slalom and again in Vancouver in 2010 when she won two silver medals, used the energy of a major event to fuel her competitive drive.

Great Britain's Chemmy Alcott, who is close friends with Mancuso and finished 15th in the downhill run, wasn't surprised at Mancuso's performance.

"I would have bet money on that she'd come down in first right now," Alcott said in-between the downhill and slalom. "I'm just really excited to see how she holds those nerves in the slalom because we know she can do it. Four years ago, she did it."


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