Philip Hersh: Julia Mancuso adds another big line to her impressive ski record
It seems a contradiction: Julia Mancuso, long one of the most outgoing personalities in sports, quietly putting together a resume that makes her one of the most outstanding people in her sport.
Mancuso added another line to it Tuesday, finishing second in the super-G as the World Alpine Championships opened in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
It was her fourth world medal, with two bronzes in 2005 and a silver in 2007.
Mancuso has the win -- and at the Olympics, no less.
But her giant slalom triumph in 2006 went largely overlooked with all the focus on Bode Miller's failures.
And her two Olympic silvers last February disappeared under the avalanche of attention given her teammate, Lindsey Vonn, who has captured more media than any other U.S. winter sports athlete the last three seasons.
Vonn also captured a lot of male libidos by appearing in scanty bikinis in the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Mancuso had struck similarly alluring poses in skimpy underthings a few years earlier as a "Lange girl,'' but those images for a boot manufacturer got no circulation outside the ski world.
That she chafes over Vonn always being on center stage was apparent last winter, when my colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated got Mancuso to talk about it.
"It really feels like not many people know about my gold medal," Mancuso told Layden. "Why does the media have to have just one star? When I got my silver in the combined and Lindsey fell, all the headlines were like VONN FALLS, MANCUSO SECOND. Why couldn't the stories say VONN LIVES UP TO GOLD EXPECTATIONS; MANCUSO SHINES TOO? It seems like a popularity contest."
Vonn, defending world champion in the super-G, came into Tuesday's race uncertain about whether she would ski after sustaining a concussion in training last week. Monday, she had launched a justifiable broadside about the dangerous conditions the women were facing on an ice-injected course so slick another U.S. skier said she could see her reflection on the track.
Vonn finished seventh Tuesday with a run that plainly was conservative.
"It's not hard to see who the best was today; they really deserved it, and I'm just disappointed I wasn't quite with it, my head wasn't in it," Vonn said.
Mancuso plainly didn't want to hear about that.
After Tuesday's race was over, a journalist asked Mancuso for her opinion on Vonn: "What do you make of Lindsey's situation? Did she psych herself out yesterday [talking about the danger]? She's obviously not 100% as well.''
Mancuso's answer seemed tellingly brief.
"Yuh, I'm not sure, I don't really know her situation,'' Mancuso said.
Mancuso said she wound up being surprised by course conditions, which did not create the gaps between finishers she expected.
"I was listening to the reports and everyone said, 'You've really got to go for it. It's not slick at all; it's just bumpy,''' she said.
Mancuso expects similar conditions for Sunday's downhill, which should work to her advantage, especially since her World Cup downhill performances this season have been among the best of her career. They include a second (to Vonn's third) at the most recent World Cup downhill.
"It's going to be turny, and [you will need] a little more speed control,'' Mancuso said. That should play to the advantage of a skier such as Mancuso, with a strong record in giant slalom.
The super-combined comes up first (Friday), and both Mancuso and Vonn should be leading medal contenders there. Vonn is the defending champion in the downhill.
"I still don't have the concentration, agility, and mental quickness to ski the way I am accustomed to,'' Vonn said Tuesday on her Facebook page. "I've decided together with my husband, doctors and coaches to skip tomorrow's downhill training run. I will continue to skip training runs and events until I feel normal again.''
Vonn has earned her attention, and her career numbers clearly are better than Mancuso's: four world medals (two gold, two silver), two Olympic medals and, the big difference, three straight World Cup overall and super-G season titles plus four straight downhill titles. Mancuso has not won a World Cup season title.
But Mancuso deserves props, too.
It would, of course, be typical if she turns out to be the U.S. star in these post-Olympic worlds, when most of her country probably thinks skiers are just waiting for the next Winter Games.
When everyone is waiting to see Lindsey Vonn again.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Julia Mancuso struts her stuff after winning world silver Tuesday. Credit: Odd Andersen / Getty Images