Winter Olympics spoiler alert: Vonn, Mancuso involved in giant slalom drama
By David Leon Moore
Article Vonn, Mancuso involved in giant slalom drama.
WHISTLER — They held half an Olympic ski race Wednesday, but it was a full day of drama - melodrama, actually - within the U.S. women’s ski team.
Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, rivals and competitors and U.S. ski teammates over the past 13 years, were at it again in a controversial half-race that was stormy on and off the slopes.
The day ended as it had begun - snowing. The first run of the women’s giant slalom was held amid a heavy snowfall with quickly deteriorating conditions. The second run was delayed repeatedly, then scrapped, to be made up today at 12:30 p.m. ET.
For U.S. ski fans, the first-run results - Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl leads, with the top seven skiers within a half-second - were secondary to the bizarre events and emotions involving Vonn and Mancuso, who were both seeking their third medal.
Vonn, starting 17th, was the fastest through the third intermediate, then skidded off course and crashed into a safety net. She broke her right little finger in the fall and lay motionless. (She is a questionable for Friday’s slalom.)
At that point in the race, because of the terrible snow conditions, skiers were being started at 60-second intervals, instead of the planned 75-second intervals. So Mancuso was allowed to start, even with Vonn still on snow.
Then, as Mancuso, the defending gold medalist in this event, was about three-fourths down the course, race officials yellow-flagged (stopped) her for safety reasons - meaning she’d have to abort her race and start again.
By the time she got to the start and was ready to go, she was the 31st skier. The snow was breaking up, becoming much slower.
She ended up finishing in 1 minute, 16.42 seconds (18th), 1.3 seconds out of the lead, a very large margin to make up today.
Mancuso, whose two split times on her aborted run indicated she would have been near the lead had she finished, felt robbed. She thought race officials should have prevented her from starting or stopped her earlier.
“The fact that I wasn’t flagged earlier, or they weren’t able to get (Vonn) out of the way in time I don’t know, it’s just kind of a ridiculous situation,” she said. “I just think they didn’t even try to stop me. I mean, I’m just skiing. I don’t know what’s going on. All I know is that I made it at least three-quarters of the way down the hill, and they decide to flag me.”
Race referee Atle Skaardal, a former ski racer from Norway, said there wasn’t enough time to stop her from starting and that once she started, the priority was to see if she could safely finish. Some seconds later, it was deemed by an on-course official to be unsafe.
“I don’t think it could have happened any faster,” he said.
Some of the details of the run were lost amid a story - and Vonn’s reaction to it - that was posted on SI.com Tuesday night.
In it, Mancuso is quoted as saying some U.S. skiers “are having a hard time reaching their potential because it’s such a struggle for attention. You come to meetings after races and it’s like it’s a bad day if Lindsey didn’t do well.”
Vonn, meeting with reporters after her run, appeared shaken.
“I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other teammates,” Vonn said. “I’ve been racing with Julia since I was a little kid. Yes, we’re competitors, but I always support her. It definitely has hurt me that she has said some negative things about me.
“All I can do is to continue to support her the way I always have, and hope that she reciprocates that. I’m always proud that an American is doing well and I was proud of her for being on the podium in downhill and super combined. It just bums me out.”
Mancuso declined to elaborate on the comment. “Right now, I’m here to race, and I’m so proud of the Team USA,” she said. “We’ve been doing a great job and collecting medals. That’s all I can really ask for.”