High drama unfolded again today at Whistler Creekside during the women's giant slalom event. The only thing more ominous than the hanging fog that shrouded the course was the air between American teammates Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso after Vonn's crash derailed what looked to be a strong first run for Mancuso.
Just over a minute into her first run, Vonn was nearly four-tenths of a second ahead of the pace set by Austrian Elizabeth Gorgl when she lost control and skied off the course. Vonn took a nose to the face on her way down and came to a stop only after slamming into the retaining fence along the side of the course. Vonn, who was the 17th skier to start the first run, wasn���t an event favorite here, but the crash was disappointing, nonetheless. No one was more disappointed than Mancuso, the defending gold medalist in the GS.
Skiing 18th, Mancuso was already on course when Vonn went down. The U.S. team���s best hope for a medal in this event, Mancuso surprised many people by winning two silver medals earlier this week in the downhill and super combined. Out of the gate and through the first section of the GS course, Mancuso was several tenths of a second ahead of the pace, but she was forced to pull up and forfeit that run when officials raised the yellow flagged, indicating a crash ahead.
(Unlike the speed events, GS and slalom are both two-run events in which every competitor who finishes the first run can start the second. The fastest composite time wins, and the course is reset between runs.)
In an effort to stay ahead of quickly deteriorating weather, course officials shortened the intervals between the starts to 45 seconds. That meant each skier left the start gate while the previous skier was only about halfway through her run. When Vonn���s ski tangled in the retaining fence, she was unable to clear the course before Mancuso���s start. Clearly distraught, Mancuso skied all the way to the finish area before hopping on a snowmobile that pulled her back up to the start area. There she got a second chance at her first run. But in the time that lapsed, the race continued. Mancuso was forced to start 31st, by which time the fog had thickened and her focus waned. Although she fought her way through the limited visibility on the course, Mancuso finished 1.3 seconds behind Gorgl, who retained the lead. That still gives Mancuso an outside chance of finishing in the medal standings���if everything goes her way in the second run���but a gold medal is all but out of reach.
The weather finally forced officials to postpone the second run until tomorrow, giving the palpable tension between the American teammates time to fester. And so it has, thanks in large part to the media. Within minutes of the kerfuffle, after Mancuso finished her second run, she left the course in tears. Later, Vonn spoke to reporters.
"I feel terrible for Julia, it is absolutely not what I wanted,��� she said. ���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."She went on to say she suspected Julia blamed Vonn for what happened.
The press will, no doubt, continue to recall comments like that, as well as one from Julia earlier in the week that likened the media frenzy around the ski team to a ���popularity contest.��� Although both women insist the rivalry is friendly and that they support one another, they���ve yet to prove it. Perhaps the second run of the GS, currently scheduled for Friday, will give them that chance. Because Vonn failed to finish the first run, she is disqualified, and must sit out what was her fourth of five events at these games. The question now is whether she���ll be there on Thursday to cheer on her teammate���and how loudly she���ll be cheering.