TORINO: ALPINE: JULIA MANCUSO STUNS FIELD, WINS GS GOLDSESTRIERE, Italy – Julia Mancuso, she of the Italian heritage and tiara and California cool attitude, sizzled to a stunning gold medal in the women’s giant slalom Friday, the last women’s event of the Torino Winter Games.

Mancuso fell over backwards in joy, having proved once again that she is a big-event skier and the future of the U.S. team.

Mancuso, the first-run leader, disappeared into a snowstorm on the second run and emerged at the bottom with time of 1 minute, 8.30 seconds, for a two-run time of 2:09.19, besting Finland’s Tanja Poutianen by .67 for the gold. Sweden’s Anna Ottosson, 1.14 back, won bronze as her favored teammate, Anja Paerson, struggled in the second run and finished sixth.

“I can’t believe it. I was freaking out at the start because the course was tough. I will have a lot of fun now. I’m happy,” Mancuso said.

It was the first women’s alpine gold for the United States since Picabo Street’s super G gold at the 1998 Nagano Games. Debbie Armstrong was the last U.S. women’s GS gold medalist, winning the 1984 race in unheralded fashion. Andrea Mead-Lawrence won gold in the 1952 Oslo GS. Overall, it is the eighth gold medal all-time for U.S. alpine women.

“I just felt I couldn’t make any mistakes in the second run because there were so many big turns at the bottom,” said Mancuso, whose serviceman skied down without pants. “I wasn’t thinking of gold, I was thinking of the podium. I was excited and nervous. It was a difficult second run.”

The victory came at a swell time for a beleaguered U.S. Ski Team, which had nabbed just two medals at these Games — Ted Ligety’s surprise gold in men’s combined and Toby Dawson’s moguls bronze.

“What a day, what a day,” U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt said. “Conditions were brutal, but Julia did an awesome job fighting through the snow and tough conditions. To win the first run and then in conditions like this be only behind Ottosson, those were two tremendous runs.

“She’s proven she can handle the pressure, she’s proven it over and over again at the big events. I wasn’t worried there, it was more a matter of did she have it under these conditions. She was charging both runs. Some tight sections and she did a great job with the tactics. She’s shown she can attack with abandon — go for the gold. It’s nice to have two golds … they are the right color.”

USSA CEO Bill Marolt added, “You dream of your athletes having gold-medal performances and as we’ve seen these last few weeks, gold-medal performances are hard to find. For her to come out in really tough conditions, especially this second run, and ski this way is phenomenal. I’m excited for her and proud of her. This really makes a big statement for her and this program. There’s no way you can come out and win at this level in these conditions unless you are mentally tough.”

Like Ligety, Mancuso was on Ski Racing magazine’s radar early in her career. She was a four-time winner of the Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year award. Ski Racing caught up with Mancuso at the Lake Louise World Cup stop earlier this season. Check out that interview here.

”I was just ready now,” Mancuso said. ”I don’t know why.”

Did Italy have anything to do with it? “Italy is good for you,” she said at the postrace press conference. “I love Italy and it’s really cool because I have a ton of Italian fans. I finally learned that my father’s family is from Bologne.”

With Croatian force Janica Kostelic not racing due to illness, Sweden’s Paerson, the Olympic slalom champ, looked poised to top the podium again.

The favorites ran early in the first run in deteriorating conditions, with Paerson setting the early pace. Running third, she completed the run in 1 minute, 1.07 seconds. She was looking to add to her gold from women’s slalom and bronze medals from downhill and combined.

But Mancuso, hoping to salvage a bitterly disappointing Games for the American alpine women, bested Paerson’s first-run time by .18 seconds to take the lead. Finland’s Poutianen was third, .32 back, in that first run, and moved up a spot in the second run for silver, the first medal ever for a Finnish alpine skier.

“It was not easy. You could see only three to five gates ahead. But I like these kind of conditions,” Poutianen said.

Mancuso was second-fastest in the second run to Ottosson, who vaulted from 13th after the first run to reach the podium. Ottosson, 29, is in her third Olympics and had never podiumed at Olympics or World Championships. She was seventh in the Nagano GS, ninth in the Salt Lake Games’ GS. At these Games, she was 18th in slalom. Ottosson has five career World Cup podiums and one win, in a Cortina GS on Jan. 23, 2000.

“I was pissed after the first run. I wanted to pack my bags and go home,” said Ottosson, who saw her countrywoman, alpine great Pernilla Wiberg, hand out flowers in the postrace ceremony. “The second run didn’t feel so good. It was foggy and bumpy. I didn’t realize I was so fast and in the lead, until I finished.”

But then Mancuso pulled off her second-run magic. According to U.S. officials, Mancuso had never led after the first run of a World Cup or other major event — until Friday. She took an aggressive line and lived on the edges of her skies down the rock-hard course and held a .18-second lead over Paerson entering the second run.

Skiing last among the 30 contenders in the second run, Mancuso coolly negotiated a tight, slightly shortened course she could barely see because of snow so heavy that course workers were repainting the blue lines as skiers passed.

Mancuso won bronze medals in the giant slalom and super G at last year’s Bormio World Championships. But she has yet to win a World Cup event and is ninth in the World Cup giant slalom standings. Mancuso has one career GS podium on the World Cup circuit, a third at Ofterschwang on Feb. 4, the final GS before Torino. She has seven career top 10s in the discipline on the World Cup tour.

Mancuso had not had a stellar Games thus far, finishing seventh in downhill, ninth in combined and 11th in super G. These are her second Olympics. She was 13th in the combined in 2002 at Snowbasin.

After she finished Friday, she thrust her fists into the air in triumph and kissed a ski as she held it up.

The United States had not won a medal in the women’s giant slalom since Diann Roffe’s silver at the 1992 Albertville Games.

American Lindsey Kildow, not a strong threat in GS, was a late scratch from the start order. American Sarah Schleper was 12th in the first run, and teammate Stacey Cook was 25th. Schleper skied off-course in the second run, while Cook placed 22nd overall.

Schleper said of the first run: “It was really fun. The snow was so, so nice. I just sat back in a couple of turns, got a little sideways in the injected snow.”

“I wasn’t surprised to see [Mancuso] in first,” Schleper said. “She is a great GS skier. I didn’t see her that much this morning but leading up to this, she’s been pretty focused and she loves big events.”

As expected, Kostelic did not race, ending her Olympics with a gold and a silver. She has six medals, four of them gold, the most for a female alpine skier in Olympic history.

”She’s in a good mood, but needs much more strength for the giant slalom,” Croatia ski team spokesman Ozren Mueller said. ”She’s not upset. She’s looking forward to the rest of the season and the World Cup.”

Paerson could have equaled Ko
stelic’s record six medals with a top-three finish. In addition to her three medals at the Torino Games, she won two in Salt Lake City four years ago.

”This has been a good Olympics,” Paerson said. ”It was always a tough fight with the snow. I really wanted to medal today, but you can’t have it all.”

Ski Racing’s Bill McCollom and Andy Hawk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

XX Winter Olympics

Women’s giant slalom
Sestriere, Italy
Feb. 24, 2006

1. Julia Mancuso, USA 2:09.19
2. Tanja Poutiainen, FIN 2:09.86
3. Anna Ottosson, SWE 2:10.33
4. Nicole Hosp, AUT 2:10.66
5. Genevieve Simard, CAN 2:10.73
6. Anja Paerson, SWE 2:10.96
7. Kathrin Zettel, AUT 2:11.35
8. Nadia Fanchini, ITA 2:11.46
9. Ana Drev, SLO 2:11.67
10. Maria Pietilae-Holmner, SWE 2:11.69
11. Brigitte Acton, CAN 2:11.71
12. Tina Maze, SLO 2:11.83
13. Maria Jose Rienda Contreras, SPA 2:12.13
14. Karen Putzer, ITA 2:12.47
15. Martina Ertl-Renz, GER 2:12.54
16. Fraenzi Aufdenblatten, SUI 2:12.62
17. Marlies Schild, AUT 2:13.27
18. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, SWE 2:13.36
19. Nika Fleiss, CRO 2:13.43
20. Carolina Ruiz Castillo, SPA 2:13.54
21. Ingrid Jacquemod, FRA 2:14.05
22. Chimene Alcott, GBR 2:14.42
23. Stacey Cook, USA 2:14.44
24. Nadia Styger, SUI 2:14.45
25. Dagmara Krzyzynska, POL 2:15.91
26. Noriyo Hiroi, JPN 2:16.66
27. Petra Zakourilova, CZE 2:17.00
28. Eva Huckova, SVK 2:18.31
29. Sona Maculova, SVK 2:18.61
30. Jelena Lolovic, SCG 2:18.84
31. Macarena Simari Birkner, ARG 2:19.43
32. Kirsten McGarry, IRE 2:22.87
33. Jae Eun Oh, KOR 2:24.47
34. Tiiu Nurmberg, EST 2:25.09
35. Yulia Siparenko, UKR 2:25.93
36. Vera Eremenko, KAZ 2:29.75
37. Duygu Ulusoy, USA 2:30.81
38. Jinzhi Dong, CHN 2:35.72
39. Magdallni Kalomiruo, GRE 2:36.45
40. Ivana Ivcevska, SVK 2:37.36
41. Reka Tuss, HUN 2:39.82
42. Neha Ahuja, IND 2:41.31
43. Mirella Arnhold, BRA 2:49.17
Other skiers:
DNS 1st: Janica Kostelic, CRO; Lindsey Kildow, USA; Mojca Rataj, BIH
DNF 1st: Manuela Moelgg, ITA; Christina Lustenberger, CAN; Maria Belen Simari Birkner, ARG; Alexandra Coletti, MON; Nicola Campbell, Erika McLeod, NZE; Dagny Kristjansdottir, ISL.
DSQ 1st: Olesja Alieva, RUS.
DNF 2nd: Michaela Kirchgasser, AUT; Denise Karbon, ITA; Sarah Schleper, USA; Annemarie Gerg, GER; Sarka Zahrobska, Lucie Hrstkova, CZE; Ana Jelusic, Matea Ferk, CRO; Chirine Njeim, LIB; Jana Gantnerova, SVK; Bianca-Andreea Narea, ROM.


By Hank McKee

Women’s GS, Sestriere, Feb. 24, 2006
Skier, skis/boots/binding

1. Mancuso, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
2. Poutiainen, Volkl/Tecnica/Marker
3. Ottosson, Dynastar/Lange/Tyrolia
4. Hosp, Volkl/Fischer/Marker
5. Simard, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
6. Paerson, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
7. Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
8. Fanchini, Dynastar/Lange/Look
9. Drev, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
10. Pietilae-Holmner, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol

Women’s giant slalom, Sestriere, Italy, Feb. 24, 2006. It is the first career win for Julia Mancuso at a senior world-level event (she won five gold medals in World Junior Championships competition). … Her best previous World Cup GS result had been third at Ofterschwang Feb. 4, 2006. … It is the 30th Olympic medal and the 12th gold medal for an American alpine ski racer. … It is the second medal, and second gold medal, of these Games, the other coming from Ted Ligety in combined Feb. 14. … Neither Mancuso nor Ligety have ever recorded a World Cup or World Championships win. … They join Deb Armstrong and Tommy Moe as U.S. skiers from the World Cup era who earned Olympic gold medals without previously winning a World Cup race. … Mancuso becomes the third American to win an Olympic gold medal in GS, the others being Armstrong in 1984 and Andrea Mead-Lawrence in 1952. … There have been a total of eight U.S. Olympic GS medals, with silver medals from Penny Pitou 1960, Jean Saubert 1964, Christin Cooper 1984, Diann Roffe 1992 and Bode Miller 2002.

It is the first podium of the season for Tanja Poutiainen. … She won the World Cup SL and GS titles in 2005. … It is her first Olympic medal. .. It is the first Olympic medal for Finland in alpine ski racing. … The previous best was sixth scored by Poutiainen in the slalom two days ago. … She also has 16 career World Cup podiums and two silver medals from the 2005 World Championships (GS and SL).

It is the first podium of the season for Anna Ottosson and her first Olympic medal. … It is the 13th Olympic medal in alpine racing for Sweden and fourth of these Olympic Games, the previous three all coming from Anja Paerson. … Ottosson recorded the fastest second run of the day and moved up from 13th place. …

It was the third-best result of the season for Genevieve Simard, the previous two also coming in GS (second Cortina, fourth Ofterschwang II). … It is the fourth top-five result of these Olympics for Canada, without scoring a medal. … It is the second-best result of the season for Brigitte Acton after a 10th in the Olympic combined Feb. 17-18. … It is the best GS result of the season and career for Stacey Cook. … It is her second Olympic result, having previously placed 19th in DH Feb. 15.

It is the first race of these Olympics in which Austria has failed to collect a medal. … It is the first time since Hans-Petter Buraas and Ole Kristian Furuseth went one-two at Nagano in slalom that two skiers from Scandinavia had shared an Olympic alpine podium. … The winning margin is .67. … First two skiers are within the same second. … Top six within two seconds.