KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – There must be something different about the Olympics, be it a vibe or a pressure or a spirit, because the statistics written next to Julia Mancuso’s name would dictate that she had no business doing what she did Monday afternoon, dancing in the snow.
It had been almost a year since Mancuso skied a full slalom run, a requirement to complete Monday’s Olympic super combined. She had not finished on the podium in this discipline, which meshes one downhill run with one of slalom, since the Vancouver Olympics, four years ago.
After a blistering downhill run gave her the lead entering the slalom, she needed somehow to navigate the snake’s pit below.
“I was just thinking, ‘Stay calm, and ski with my heart,’ ” Mancuso said, “and I skied my heart out.”
The cynic might say that other elements – athleticism, training, stamina – dictate performance and results. Mancuso is increasingly solid proof there is more.
She could not hold her lead over Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, a superb slalom racer who took gold, but she held onto a historic bronze medal – the fourth of her Olympic career, twice as many as any other American women’s Alpine skier. “She sucks up the spirit of the Games and uses it as motivation, and gets really, really excited about it,” said Alex Hoedlmoser, the head coach of the U.S. women’s Alpine team. “She loves to compete here.”
That is the only explanation for why Mancuso can stumble into Olympics, then excel when she arrives.
She is now the first American skier to win medals in three straight Olympics, joining speedskaters Apolo Ohno and Bonnie Blair as the only American Winter Olympians to have such a streak. This season, on the World Cup circuit, she had scarcely sniffed a podium, with no finish better than seventh.