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VANCOUVER — Less than a month ago, Julia Mancuso finished 22nd in a World Cup downhill. The performance wasn't all that different from most of her pre-Olympic races.
Now, after two medals in three events at the Vancouver Games, her season has turned from disappointment to delight.
“I've been looking forward to these days. It has been rough the past couple of years,” Mancuso said. “I've definitely put in extra effort coming into these games.”
With skiing overshadowed in the United States, an American skier's career can be defined by an Olympics. For Mancuso, this month was a chance to put a difficult, injury-plagued stretch behind her, and she came through at the best possible time. Ditto for Bode Miller, whose three medals at these games restored a legacy that appeared gone after his flameout at the last Olympics.
Mancuso competes today in the giant slalom, a race that also includes American standout Lindsey Vonn. NBC plans to air it in prime time along with another appearance by Apolo Anton Ohno in short track speedskating.
Mancuso won the giant slalom at the Turin Games in 2006, and she enjoyed some success in the world championships the next year. She appeared to be in decline coming into these games after fighting nagging back issues.
Those struggles were all but forgotten when she won silver in the downhill last week, then took another silver in the super-combined. She's been called a “big-game skier” by Vonn, who took the gold in that downhill.
Mancuso, who created a business that sells lingerie, is well aware of how much publicity is at stake at the Olympics.
“The medal will definitely help with the business,” she said after the downhill. “The business is fulfilling another one of my dreams. I have always wanted to design clothes.”
Mancuso doesn't have to worry about her legacy, and Miller doesn't either anymore.
In 2006, Miller failed to win a medal and was among the Turin Games' biggest busts.
Miller will still be remembered for that debacle, but the three medals he's earned this year have helped him earn back respect.
“I have been really proud of how I've skied before but to do it ... when it matters, on the one day — that's been tough in the past,” Miller said after winning the super-combined for his first Olympic gold. “It's cool to finally have it.”
Mancuso has a gold from four years ago, and now she'll try to defend her title in the same event. That's a prospect that seems a lot more plausible than it did a couple weeks ago.
“I've been struggling to do my best. ... I wanted to come in and ski my best and I think I did that,” she said. “I came to put the past behind me, move forward and really rip it up.”