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Bode who? Mancuso delivers alpine medal for U.S.

  • The Sports Network
  • Published Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, at 1:34 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - Yes, two of the faces on America's Mount Rushmore of alpine skiing have taken hits on the chin recently. But if you think Lindsey Vonn's injuries and Bode Miller's flameout in the downhill have left the U.S. without an alpine skiing star in the first days of the Sochi Olympics, you're mistaken.

Julia Mancuso is the skier you're looking for.

You might be forgiven for only knowing the names Lindsey and Bode. After all, Vonn and Miller appear more often in the places you might see an alpine skier if you're someone who doesn't normally follow the sport except every four years at the Olympics.

Mancuso's face pops up less frequently in magazines and on TV, but she should have at least one news cycle to herself after winning bronze in the women's combined on Monday.

It gave Mancuso four career Olympic medals, tied for second all-time among American women at the Winter Olympics behind only speedskating legend Bonnie Blair's six.

Mancuso will ski three more times at the Sochi Games -- in the downhill, where she won silver behind Vonn four years ago; the Super-G, where she has never finished better than ninth in four Olympics; and the giant slalom, which she won in 2006.

If that seems like a less-than-spectacular Olympic resume, you probably think winning anything other than gold is a failure.

Not Mancuso, who said getting her first bronze felt "amazing." It made her only the fourth female ever to win a full set of Olympic medals in alpine skiing.

Hours after she crossed the finish line, the 29-year-old posted a picture on Instagram of herself sitting around a table with the U.S. figure skaters who finished third in the new team event in Sochi.

"Hanging with my #bronze #teamUSA friends," wrote Mancuso, who is smiling broadly in the picture.

Seem like someone who is disappointed to "settle" for bronze?

"I just love being here at the Olympics," Mancuso said. "It's so much fun and I get really energized. I got a lot of energy from watching the men's (downhill) race yesterday, and it was just a perfect example of what I always think: anything is possible at the Olympics, you can never count anyone out and you always have to just do your best."

Mancuso might have dozens fewer World Cup wins than Vonn, but she now has twice the Olympic medals. Her knack for coming up big every four years isn't lost on those around her.

"She gets so excited at the Olympics," said Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women's alpine coach.

Mancuso, who is from Squaw Valley, Calif., host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, was overshadowed four years ago by Vonn, who posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated's Olympic preview that year over a headline that said she was the best female American skier ever. (Hard to argue against that.)

The teammates were then forced to deny they had a less-than-friendly rivalry as "Vonncouver" mania engulfed those Olympics. With Vonn sidelined this time around because of knee injuries, Mancuso grabbed the spotlight to herself.

She barreled to a first-place finish in the downhill portion of the combined Monday on the Rosa Khutor course, moving her into medal position yet again at her fourth Olympics.

Standing in her way was the slalom -- not her best discipline. And during her run, Mancuso had doubts, telling herself it wasn't good enough.

But: "I knew where to let it run on that last pitch," she said, "and surprise! I looked up and got a medal."

Thirteenth place in the slalom landed her behind Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, now the two-time reigning Olympic champ, and Austria's Nicole Hosp, but on the podium.

Mancuso's four Olympic medals trail only Miller's five among American alpine skiers, and she is one of just three U.S. athletes to medal in three straight Winter Olympics.

It came during a particularly rough World Cup season for Mancuso, who hasn't placed better than seventh in any race. But get her to the Olympics and she shines.

This last medal left her "kind of amazed."

"It's been a really tough season for me, and I've always just had that real belief that I can do it," said Mancuso. "So putting out these dreams and beliefs that I can come out here and have a medal and everyone being a little skeptical and just knowing in my heart that I can do it was kind of like crossing the finish line saying, 'See it works! Believing in yourself works! I got a medal today!'"

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