Mancuso focuses on Beaver Creek podium

Melanie Wong
Vail Daily
Julia Mancuso makes her way down the new World Cup Raptor downhill course at Beaver Creek during training in November.
Justin McCarty/Vail Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — U.S. ski racer Julia Mancuso is looking for No. 8 this year (as in eight World Cup titles) and maybe another Olympic medal while she’s at it.

Things are looking up for the all-round veteran from Squaw Valley, Calif., this season as she enters the Nature Valley Raptor races this coming weekend. Despite a disappointing race at the first World Cup stop in Soelden, Austria, in October, she’s been looking good in training and is coming into the season healthy.

“I was a little shocked in Soelden when I skied so bad, but training’s been good, and I’m just hoping to do good in the race (this weekend),” she said earlier this week.

She just might do that, too. In the last three years she has been third, second and second in the super-G rankings and has been in the top 10 of the downhill results for the last four years.

Olympic medals

Then there are the Olympics. Mancuso is the owner of a gold medal in giant slalom at Turin, Italy, in 2006, and two silvers from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in downhill and combined.

This year she hopes to appear at the Sochi Olympics, not only as part of her personal hunt for a medal, but as a bit of an elder statesman for the women’s team. Lindsey Vonn is notably sitting on the sidelines at the moment, recovering from a partially torn ACL, leaving Mancuso and fellow team member Stacey Cook as the team veterans.

“I’ve used my experience and what I’ve learned to help guide (the rest of the team),” she said. “It’s just about having someone you can look up to.”

Mancuso is a likely contender to get a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this year — and that’s saying a lot, because the U.S. women’s speed team runs extremely deep.

Big event skier

While she’s consistently a strong competitor, she tends to race especially well during big competition years such as this season. During this weekend at Beaver Creek, and in other World Cup competitions that follow, she said that Sochi is definitely on her mind.

“It’s Olympic season, so every race I’m trying to improve and try to get in peak performance for the Olympics,” she said. “But it’s a long road, and it’s kind of one race at a time, just building confidence.”

She said she’s also optimistic about her downhill prospects for the season, after working out some equipment problems she dealt with last year. Last year, she struggled to find the right boots, but this year she is using a newer model similar to the ones Vonn uses. In previous years, the boots were not manufactured in her size, she said.

“Downhill is tough because it’s so much equipment (based),” she said. “Also, in order to win a downhill you have to take risks, and I wasn’t quite comfortable taking risks last year.”

Nature hippie

While sometimes in the shadow of Vonn, Mancuso has always raced and lived in her own fashion, making her a fun athlete to watch. Earlier in her career, she didn’t travel with the rest of the team, instead driving around Europe in a motorhome. During the offseason, she lives in Hawaii, working out in the water and on the beach instead of in the gym or in the Southern Hemisphere like many of her teammates.

She’s a self-admitted “nature hippie,” which might explain her constant sunny attitude when it comes to ski racing.

“It’s not even about winning every race. It’s more about winning your racing, which is doing the best you can do,” she said. “For me, I take one turn at a time. It’s between me and mountain, and I want to make my peace on that run and feel the wind on my face. If a competitor is having better run, they figured it out. At least I can be happy with what I did on that run, leaving knowing I did my best and had a great time doing it.”