Lindsey Vonn is out, Julia Mancuso sits 18th in the giant slalom
It seemed fitting the daytime serial that played out Wednesday between gold-medal-winning American rivals Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso would have to be continued until . . . Thursday.
These are, after all, the days of their lives.
Skiing bib-to-bib in the Olympic giant slalom, Vonn at No. 17 and Mancuso at No. 18, Vonn crashed while flying back-first into a retaining fence, broke her right pinkie finger, and it might have cost Mancuso the chance to defend her GS gold medal.
“Is this really happening?” Mancuso said she was thinking. “It was hard to get my head around it.”
Mancuso was already on the course when Vonn skied out, was flagged by an official, had to take a snowmobile back to the top, started again at No. 31, and then finished 18th in the first run, 1.30 seconds behind the leader.
“This was probably the worst thing that could happen at the Olympics,” Mancuso said. “To get flagged on the run of your defending gold medal run . . . it’s probably the most unexpected thing ever.”
The story’s not over yet.
Dense fog at Whistler Creekside course postponed the second run until Thursday morning, yet there may have never been more news emanating from a ski-race postponement.
Forget about likely medal winners. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria posted the fastest morning run time of 1:15.12, good enough to give her a narrow .02 lead over France’s Taina Barioz. Kathrin Zettel, another Austrian, stands third, .16 off the lead.
The drama belonged to Vonn and Mancuso -- rivals since childhood.
Vonn has already won a gold and bronze at these Olympics, while Mancuso has added two silvers to the gold she won in Turin, Italy, four years ago.
These racers, both 25, just can’t seem to shake each other. It was Vonn last week who knocked Mancuso into second place in the downhill, and Mancuso who took surprising silver in the super combined that Vonn did not finish.
They entered Wednesday’s race tied in the World Cup giant slalom rankings at No. 28, and then randomly drew back-to-back bib times.
Vonn, skiing in her weakest event, broke clean and was leading by .35 after the third interval when Mancuso left the start house.
Race officials, trying to squeeze a race in between the snow and fog, sent the skiers off in intervals -- with racers 16 through 30 leaving every minute.
Mancuso didn’t know Vonn had crashed near the bottom when she left and was well down the course when she was stopped.
Down below, Vonn lay twisted near the fence -- “I was like a pretzel out there,” she said.
Vonn eventually found her bearings and skied to the bottom.
“I feel terrible,” Vonn said of making Mancuso start over. “I hope she understands. I definitely didn’t want that to happen for the both of us.”
Mancuso left the media mixed zone, in tears, without comment and soon posted to her Twitter account: “I was flagged in GS. That is . . . “
She later softened her remarks with a re-post: “That yellow flag in GS was such . . . just want to scream. I’m really miffed.”
Mancuso later wondered why she wasn’t flagged earlier.
Race referee Atle Skaardal explained that it took a jury member a few seconds to determine whether Vonn’s crash warranted a stop:
“At that time Mancuso was already on her way so it was impossible to stop her at the start,” he said.
Skaardal also said the jury committee voted unanimously to make the first run official and not re-run the entire race Thursday.
It wasn’t Vonn’s fault Mancuso was forced off course -- it was just incredibly, and randomly, weird.
“I honestly feel terrible for Julie,” Vonn expounded in the finish area. “It’s absolutely not what I wanted.”
Vonn then said she was hurt by seemingly tame quotes attributed to Mancuso during the Olympics.
Last week, while praising Vonn for her unprecedented success, Mancuso mentioned that she wished the rest of the ski team got more publicity. Mancuso also told SI.com, “you come to meetings and it’s like a bad day if Lindsey didn’t do well.”
Vonn’s response: “I’ve been racing with Julia since I was a little kid and yes, we’re competitors, but I always support her.
“It definitely has hurt me that she has said some negative things about me. All I can do is to continue to support her the way I always have been, and hope that she reciprocates that.”
Mancuso said she wasn’t specifically mad at Vonn when she stormed out of the finish area between runs.
“Really, it’s just the circumstances,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem right. This stuff doesn’t happen . . . ever.”
Mancuso refused to clarify her recent comments regarding Vonn, saying, “I’m just interested in answering questions about the GS right now.”
Wednesday’s mini-drama was the first off-message moment for a ski team that has earned eight Alpine medals -- the most in U.S. Olympic history.
The four medal winners -- Vonn, Mancuso, Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht -- rose early Monday morning to pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated.