Vonn's crash derails unlucky teammate Mancuso
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Measure these odds:
The skier before Mancuso is
Some minor wounds were exposed. I wrote the following two paragraphs in
"[Mancuso] has played a strange role in Whistler. Mancuso has been largely free of the pressure teammate Lindsey Vonn was under (a situation that won't necessarily be true on Wednesday in the GS, where Mancuso will be closely watched), but her performances have inevitably been viewed and judged through the prism of Vonn's. 'It's such a popularity contest,' Mancuso told SI.com on Sunday, while drinking a latte at a picnic table in the sunshine outside a coffee shop and eating a massive, sloppy cinnamon bun with her hands. ('My off day breakfast,' she called it.)
"In the wider view, Mancuso is uncomfortable (resentful is too strong, but barely) with Vonn's influence on the team's dynamic. (For the record, Vonn does most of her training -- on snow and off -- apart from the other U.S. skiers). 'Our team is struggling, as a group,' says Mancuso. 'People are having a hard time reaching their potential because it's such a struggle for attention. You come to meetings after races and it's like it's a bad day if Lindsey didn't do well.'
So there was a little tension. Not a lot. A little.
Back to the race: If a skier falls while on the course, the next racer is held in the starting gate until the course is cleared. This doesn't always work to perfection. If a skier falls close to the one-minute interval and the next skier is sent off, that skier is stopped in mid-run by an official waving a yellow flag if it's determined that the fallen racer cannot safely clear the course in time. The flagged skier then makes her way back to the top of the course to jump in whenever she can. This is usually a huge disadvantage because deteriorating snow conditions make the track slower; in addition, the racer has already expended emotional energy starting once and physical energy running some portion of the course.
Getting flagged is exceptionally unlucky. But in ski racing it happens.
Vonn, whose only really weak discipline is giant slalom (she has never made a World Cup podium), tore down the snowy course, leading
Her fall occurred two seconds after Mancuso started. Mancuso kicked out onto the course as Vonn was rolling to a stop and made it at least 30 seconds, perhaps as much as 45 seconds, down the course before she was flagged off. She skied down to Vonn's crash site and approached U.S. coach
Back to the original mandate: Measure those odds. Not only does Mancuso get flagged in the Olympic giant slalom. She gets flagged after Vonn crashes.
It's important to say here that this was an enormous coincidence and nothing more. Vonn didn't crash on purpose. Mancuso didn't accuse Vonn of sabotaging her giant slalom. "It's just the circumstances," Mancuso said.
That doesn't make it any easier.
After being flagged, Mancuso was driven on a snowmobile to the top of the course. (Even that was controversial; women's race referee
The usually ebullient Mancuso finished her do-over in tears. "Tears of frustration," she said. "I know that the conditions got slower. The starting numbers past 20, nobody was punching it in there." (True -- the highest bib number among the top 10 finishers in the first run was Goergl's No. 16). "It's the Olympics," Mancuso continued. "You put everything into that one run, and you expect to get to the bottom and then have a couple hours to go up and do it again, and this is just not how it works, normally."
Mancuso was angry at the way her situation was managed by race officials. Between runs she posted to her Twitter feed: "I was flagged in gs. That is bulls---. Well now its time to use that anger and fight second run." That tweet quickly disappeared, and in a later one Mancuso said, "That yellow flag in GS was such ... I just want to scream. I'm really miffed. Anyway I've got to take that energy and focus it for second run."
Miffed. That's funny.
When she spoke to reporters after the race, Mancuso said, "Just the whole situation, it could have been dealt with so much better. In my mind, there are so many more scenarios that can happen ... The fact that I wasn't flagged earlier, or they weren't able to get her out of the way in time ..."
Referee Skaardal said, "It was impossible to stop her at the start because Lindsey Vonn, the racer before her, had an intermediate time just over one minute. You need to understand that the jury member needs one or two or three seconds to consider the situation before he calls a start/stop. At that time Mancuso was already on her way, so it was impossible to stop her at the start. When she's on course our first priority is to let her race all the way down."
Vonn said, "I honestly feel terrible for Julia. It's absolutely not what I wanted. I wanted to finish. I wanted to have a good run and by no means did I want that to happen to Julia. I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other teammates. 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 continue to support her the way I always have been and hope that she reciprocates that. I'm always proud that an American is doing well, and I was proud of her for being on the podium in downhill and super combined. It just bums me out."
That makes two bummed-out U.S skiers. Mancuso was asked by reporters to expand on her comments to SI.com and declined. Her disappointment in the race was manifestly evident. "I wish I could have this morning happen over," Mancuso said. "That was probably the worst possible thing that could happen in the Olympics, to get flagged in your defending gold medal run."
That it happened because Lindsey Vonn crashed in front of her doesn't make it worse. It just makes it more poignant.