SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Julia Mancuso lived up to her billing as a big event racer again on Tuesday, winning her eighth medal at a major competition by taking bronze in the opening super-G of the world championships.
The American started her run just minutes after teammate Lindsey Vonn was helicoptered off the course with a knee injury that ended the four-time overall champion's season.
Mancuso, who won gold in GS at the 2006 Turin Olympics, now has five podium finishes but is yet to win a race at world championships.
"That's kind of what I am working on," she said. "I am happy with a third place but the next goal is to get that gold."
In order to improve her preparations for skiing's marquee event in Schladming, Mancuso skipped a parallel slalom in Moscow last Tuesday. She won the city event a year ago.
"I was a little sad not to go back to Moscow," Mancuso said. "Our team was training in Italy. It was a good decision ... to get prepared. That way we know when we stand in the start gate, there is nothing else to do than go fast."
Going fast is exactly what Mancuso did after a disappointing start to her super-G run. She was only 17th at the first intermediate time — about 13 seconds into the race — but was fastest at the next two splits and fifth in the finish section. She ultimately trailed winner Tina Maze of Slovenia by 0.52.
"I know I can ski really fast, I am doing really well right now in training, too," Mancuso said. "I just wanted to have a great run."
The race was overshadowed by the ugly crash involving Vonn, who tore ligaments and broke a bone when her right leg bent sideward while landing from a high-speed jump.
It was "really hard" to start three racers after the incident, said Mancuso, who did not see TV footage of the crash prior to her run.
Apart from the distraction, course conditions weren't ideal for a perfect run either.
Days of snow and rain had affected the slope and softened the upper layer. To worsen the situation, thick fog hanging over the hill caused a delay of 3½ hours.
And when the race was finally underway, it was interrupted twice for about 15 minutes after crashes. Not just Vonn, but also a course worker who fell and was taken brought to the hospital with a broken nose.
"This might have been one of the most difficult races I have ever been in," Mancuso said. "It was a really long course ... I didn't know I would be so tired at the end of the run."
Chip White, head coach of the U. S. women's speed team, praised Mancuso for "an amazing job."
"The course was rough and it was tough conditions," White said. "She knew that she had a challenge before she started and she went and took control of the situation with really difficult conditions with all the fogs, all the holds, helicopters coming in."
Mancuso skied all but error-free and managed to adjust her racing line several times without slowing.
"I could have had a lot better run, but to be on the podium is everything you could ask for," she said. "My brain shut off halfway down the course so that's why I had some mistakes ... It was a long day. I knew the course well but my reactions just were not totally on."
However, with the super-combined event coming up on Friday, followed by the downhill two days later and the giant slalom next Thursday, Mancuso could yet achieve her gold medal goal.