Vonn hurt by Mancuso jibe over popularity

By Simon Evans

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Downhill gold medalist Lindsey Vonn said she has been hurt by comments from team mate and rival Julia Mancuso that the U.S. team is being harmed by a 'popularity contest'.

The rivalry between the two American skiers has been bubbling under the surface throughout the Games but went public on Wednesday.

Mancuso, who has won two silvers at Whistler, was quoted by Sports Illustrated's website as saying: "It's such a popularity contest. Our team is struggling, as a group.

"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."

In response, on Tuesday Vonn, who also took bronze in super G, said she fully backed Mancuso as a team-mate.

"I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other team mates. I have been racing with Julia since I was a little kid and yes we are competitors but I always support her and it has definitely hurt me that she has said some negative things about me.

"All I can do is continue to support her like I always have done and hope that she reciprocates that.

"I am always proud that an American is doing well and I was proud of her for being on the podium in downhill in super combined and it just bums me out," she said.

The tension between the pair was exacerbated after a giant slalom first run in which Vonn crashed out and then Mancuso, the defending Olympic champion, had to stop her run and go back to the top due to her team-mate still receiving treatment on the course.

A distraught Mancuso, who finished 18th after her first run, rushed away from the course, streaming in tears while Vonn said she felt awful about the incident.

"I feel terrible for Julia, it is absolutely not what I wanted. I wanted to finish, I wanted to have a good run and by no means wanted that to happen to Julia.

"All I can say is that I feel terrible and really hope she can ski the way she has been skiing and hopefully have a good second run and punch it back in there," Vonn told reporters.

But in another sign of the tension that now clearly exists between the pair, Vonn added: "I know that she is mad and probably frustrated and probably mad at me but I can't help that I fell.

"I wanted to finish I was having a great run and wish I could have come down and not have her be flagged and that is absolutely not what I wanted - it happened, all you can do is deal with the hand that you are dealt," she said.

(Editing by Miles Evans)