Under a bluebird sky in Aspen, Colorado, American ski racer Julia Mancuso charged down Ajax and onto the podium, snagging the bronze at the Aspen Winternational World Cup giant slalom. In doing so, she became the first American to podium at the race since Kristina Koznick’s third place finish in 2004. It marked her return to the GS winner's circle, her first since 2007.
Running bib 14, Mancuso slayed a solid first run down a steep, technical course which bucked many race favorites including reigning champion Tessa Worley. Mancuso’s turns were clean, precise, and reflected the cool mastery of an evolved competitor. From the sidelines, a huge Squaw Valley crew cheered Mancuso on. After her first run, which landed her in the fourth position, Mancuso sat down, caught her breath, slurped down some green juice, and told USSA spokesmen Doug Haney that she “could have gone faster.” Outfitted in a custom Spyder speed suit with the map of Squaw Valley splashed across her body, Mancuso said, “It was a difficult set that first run. I have a lot of room to improve. I was fighting and pretty solid to the finish. I’m glad there’s a second run.”
Coming off her win in Soelden, Austria last month, her first GS victory ever, teammate Lindsey Vonn’s first run was marred by several mistakes. “I was a little too nervous today. I wasn’t really myself. I never found a good rhythm on the course.” It was also announced today that Vonn and her husband Thomas, who has been her coach and played a very active role in her career, filed for divorce last Monday.
The sun was low in the November sky for run number two. Racers complained of flat light and tricky shadows on the course. As is protocol in giant slalom, the top placing finishers from the first run skied last in the second set. Mancuso skied in the 27th position, fourth from last. From the moment she kicked out of the gates, Mancuso was in full-on attack mode. The speed specialist put the hammer down, slicing through the gates and rocketing into first position for a few moments, before catching her edge in the mid-section, which scrubbed speed of her time—and nearly sent her sailing into the sidelines. After an athletic recovery, Mancuso charged the finish line in full throttle, narrowly missing first place, held by Germany’s Vicktoria Rebensburg, who ultimately won the race. For two racers, Mancuso held the second spot, until the last skier, Lizzy Goergl, an Austrian superstar, edged Mancuso out of the silver and into the bronze.
After the race, Mancuso said, “It’s exciting. Everyone always talks about curses and statistics. As athletes we’re just up there trying to ski fast and hope that you make a podium or a win. I’m really excited.” Legendary former ski team coach Bob Beattie congratulated Mancuso with a hug. Like so many of Mancuso’s successes, this medal was one for the books—she’d broken a seven-year absence on the podium in Aspen for the Americans.
Saturday night, fireworks lit up Aspen’s skyline. Bars and parties across town buzzed and went off. An elated Mancuso celebrated with her family and hometown crew at a private house, before slipping away to prepare for Sunday’s slalom race. (She didn’t qualify for the second run, while teammate 16-year-old World Cup newbie Mikaela Shiffrin took 8th and Vonn opted out of the race).
On the men's side, Askel Lund- Svindal just edged out Didier Cuche of Switzerland for the men's Super G victory. France’s Adrien Theaux completed the podium in third. U.S. skier Bode Miller placed ninth, Marco Sullivan nabbed 17th, Tommy Ford snagged 22nd, Travis Ganong placed 28th and Andrew Weibrecht snuck in at 30th. Both Weibrecht and Sullivan missed half of last season due to injury, so earning some World Cup points this weekend put them back on the map.
Stay tuned for this weekend’s World Cup events: the men take it to Beaver Creek for a downhill, super-G and GS, while the ladies head to Lake Louise for a series of speed events. Whoo boy, World Cup season has begun—with a bang from the American ladies.