WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Going first, Julia Mancuso was in the dark about the course. There was no one to enlighten her about what lay ahead.
The U.S. skier didn't know about those harsh early morning shadows that made seeing quite difficult. Or the complexity of that hairpin section that she nearly missed, recovering at the last possible second.
Mancuso went for a bumpy ride in the women's super-G on Saturday, a ride that ended without a medal — the first time that's happened to Mancuso at these Olympics. She finished in ninth place, 1.36 seconds behind winner Andrea Fischbacher of Austria.
Soon after Mancuso's run, the sun rose over the tops of the trees, illuminating the hill and eliminating the shadows.
What Mancuso wouldn't have given to glide through a sun-splashed course. It might have prevented a mistake up top — a tiny slip-up that all but ended her chances of adding more hardware to go with her silver medals in the downhill and the super-combined.
"I knew when I crossed the finish line that I blew it," she said. "I was hoping for a slight miracle, that maybe other people were making the same mistake and (I could) possibly get on the podium. It seemed like something happened and everyone came down fast."
Usually, going first in the super-G can be somewhat of an advantage.
Sure, there's no feedback on the course yet. And without a scouting report, the tricky sections are still being figured out.
But there's a clean slate awaiting.
That's very enticing — when the course is bathed in sun, that is, and no wicked shadow lines exist.
Mancuso nearly skied off the course in a section called "Frog Bank." She recovered, but lost valuable tenths of a second off the clock.
After finishing, she clung to the top time until Germany's Maria Riesch flew down at No. 12. Riesch's run made it abundantly clear to Mancuso what she long feared: No way was her time good enough for a medal. Not with the top super-G competitors yet to load into the start gate.
"She beat me by a second in the section I made a mistake," Mancuso said of Riesch. "And I thought she skied conservatively."
Slovenia's Tina Maze wouldn't and won the silver. Neither would Fischbacher, whose hard charge earned her gold.
Lindsey Vonn, though, pulled back a bit on the throttle after getting through the section that gave Mancuso so much trouble.
For letting up on the accelerator, Vonn wound up with the bronze, 0.74 seconds behind Fischbacher's winning time.
"I just didn't continue with that aggression all the way to the finish," Vonn explained. "Wasn't as clean as I could've been on the bottom part. I think that's where I lost the race."
For Mancuso, this Olympics has been all about skiing with ease, not letting pressure get to her. So far, it's an approach that's worked out well.
And it might have again Saturday if she had a little more background about the lay of the land.
Or the shadows had been less severe.
"I still skied really, really well, but that mistake — it was happening to the later girls, too. Wish I had a little more information," Mancuso lamented. "A little mistake there cost me."
Now, she's preparing for the defense of her Olympic giant slalom title, the event she came out of nowhere to win at the 2006 Turin Games.
Like then, Mancuso won't be considered a favorite in Wednesday's race. Her giant slalom ranking is 28th this season on the World Cup circuit.
But Mancuso enjoys being an underdog.
"I have nothing to lose," she said.