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Mancuso has golden moment

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff
Julia Mancuso celebrates her gold medal win Friday. Photo by Helen H. Richardson of The Denver Post
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It was a big day for Park City Winter School grad Julie Mancuso. Heck, it was a big day for the entire U.S. Ski Team.

The 21-year-old native of Olympic Valley, Calif. was able to turn in two stellar runs in the giant slalom Friday afternoon in Sestriere, Italy. Runs that mean more than a gold medal and a personal triumph for Mancuso. It also means another medal to add to those earned by Parkite Ted Ligety’s gold in combined and Toby Dawson’s bronze in moguls, in an Olympics where the American ski team has clearly struggled.

"I’ve been waiting all these two weeks for the giant slalom and unfortunately it was at the end, or fortunately," Mancuso said. "I was always working at that event to get a medal in."

Mancuso was gunning for gold throughout the entire race. She led both runs, turning in a 1:00.89 time on her first time down the course, and a 1:08.30 in the second to combine for a total time of 2:09.19.

The gold medal win was the first, of any color, for the two-time Olympian. She competed in the three other alpine events, finishing seventh in the downhill, ninth in the combined event and 11th in the super G.

It was a bit a of a rough start for Mancuso, who forgot her credential when leaving the athlete village Friday morning, but soon pulled herself together and was able to perform for her teammates and family.

Mancuso may have been tapping into a little Italian karma for her big win. Her mother’s family hails from Bologna and her father’s family is from Southern Italy. Her entire family, including both of her parents (mother, Andrea, lives in Park City and her father lives in Hawaii) and her grandparents were cheering for her at the finish line. Her grandfather, Denny Tuffanelli, made the trip despite extensive neck and back problems, and used two canes to make his way around the Olympic venue.

"All of my family has been supportive of my ski racing," Mancuso said. "It was really special to have everyone here."

With sluggish snow conditions and race delays, the alpine team has been competing to a rather small crowd, but Mancuso said that actually helped reduce some of the pressure.

"I let go of the big Olympic hype and realized it was just a showcase of the best athletes in the world and it’s not necessary to add extra pressure," Mancuso said.

According to the U.S. Ski Team, Mancuso’s gold was the first one captured by an American woman in the giant slalom since Debbie Armstrong accomplished the feat in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics the same year that Mancuso was born. Diann Roffe won the last American medal in the giant slalom, when she captured silver in 1992 in Albertville, France.

Mancuso said that the Americans’ struggles on the slopes in Turin have not been for lack of effort.

"Everyone was saying we were supposed to get medals. You know, we all wanted to get medals and we were all trying and doing our best, but not everything was in our favor, just as skiing goes," Mancuso said. "Sometimes everything has to click and you have to be a little bit lucky and it just wasn’t on our side."

The other female American skiers, however, experienced some trouble. Stacey Cook (Truckee, Calif.) finished 23rd with a time of 2:14.44. Sarah Schleper did not finish the second run, and Lindsey Kildow pulled out of the race because she was not feeling well.

The win is the only medal for American women alpine skiers in the Games.

The silver medal went to Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen with a time of 2:09.86. Sweden’s Anna Ottosson took bronze with a combined finish of 2:10.33.

Defending 2002 Olympic giant slalom gold medallist Janica Kostelic of Croatia did not compete in Friday’s race after complaining of illness and fatigue.

Mancuso’s golden moment was even more spectacular, because conditions were foggy and extremely snowy, causing 11 racers not to finish. Mancuso, often called a risk-taker, said the weather definitely played a role in the race.

"My style has been over the past few years evolving to sort of take more risks, but also I think the second run had a lot more to do with tactics and I just took it easy and made it down safe where a lot of people were having problems," Mancuso said. " So I think, as far as conditions go, I couldn’t see anything and that could have been towards my advantage, because I was just ready to give my best and not hold back."

Mancuso, who has made herself somewhat famous during the Olympics by skiing with a tiara during slalom races, was without the adornment on Friday, because she wears a helmet in the giant slalom. The headgear was part of a joke from her coaches who dubbed her the princess of the team and felt she needed the crown to display her status. She did admit to having lucky pink underwear that she wears during races and has become a well-known fact among the ski team. The homemade pink "Super Jewel" undergarments, as she calls them, will be available on the website she plans to launch soon.

The gold is the second one earned by an alumnus of the Winter School, a specialized school for athletes that is located at the Utah Olympic Park. Ligety’s was the first. According to Frank Wright, who was the headmaster when both skiers attended, said the accomplishment is huge for their school. A total of six students from the school are competing in the Games.

"What school in the United States can have that many student ion the Olympics and have two win gold?" Wright said. "It’s quite an achievement a credit to those students."

Wright also said that the gold medals were that much more special because Ligety and Mancuso were great students.

"They epitomized what this country looks for in a student athlete excellent in both," Wright said.

Mancuso, a product of the Squaw Valley Racing program in Lake Tahoe, spent much of her season blogging on http://www.journeytotorino.com , which seems fitting now since there is no better way to finish out the "journey" with a gold.

Mancuso hopes to use her gold medal winner status to further promote the sporting lifestyle and bring skiing to more people.

"Hopefully skiing can spread to people that can’t even afford to ski and also to Americans to just get out there," Mancuso said. " It’s not just about the racing. It’s about being outside and enjoying the snow and the mountains with your best friends and family."

The men’s giant slalom on Saturday, Feb. 25 will finish out alpine competition on Sestriere’s hills. Ligety, a slalom specialist, is expected to do well in the race.

XX OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES Sestriere, ITA – Feb. 24, 2006 Women’s Giant Slalom 1. Julia Mancuso, Olympic Valley, Calif., 2:09.19 2. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 2:09.86 3. Anna Ottosson, Sweden, 2:10.33 4. Nicole Hosp, Austria, 2:10.66 5. Genevieve Simard, Canada, 2:10.73 — 23. Stacey Cook, Truckee, Calif., 2:14.44 — Did not finish 2nd run: Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo. — Did not start: Lindsey Kildow, Vail, Colo.


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