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U.S. women not putting money on medals

Shauna FarnellOlympics correspondent
Julia Mancuso brushes past a gate Friday during the first run of the combined slalom in Sestriere, Italy. Mancuso finished fifth in the combined after Saturday's downhill portion of the race. (Alessandro Trovati)
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SAN SICARIO, Italy – Medals aren’t necessarily the first thing on the minds of America’s female ski racers at these Olympics.Even after Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif., skied into second place after her combined downhill run on Saturday, and held it until the last five racers, she knew the second place wasn’t going to last.”I’m not going to stay there,” she said, after already noting in the middle of the event that skiers such as herself compared to skiers like Croatia’s Janica Kostelic and Sweden’s Anja Paerson are “in a different league.”Sure enough, Kostelic, the Croatian sensation, took gold Saturday, finishing with a combined time of 2 minutes, 51.08 seconds. Kostelic, 24, also won gold in the Olympic combined event in 2002, along with slalom and giant slalom and a silver in the super G.

Kostelic is the current World Cup leader in the overall standings as well as in slalom and combined. She has two overall World Cup titles and five world championship gold medals.On Saturday, Austrian Marlies Schild brushed back a clearly upset Paerson for the silver medal in the combined. Schild finished a half a second behind Kostelic in 2:51.58, and Paerson (2:51.63) was a mere .05 seconds behind for bronze – her second thus far, having finished third in Wednesday’s downhill.”It’s like winning and coming last. That’s the difference,” said the Swede. “I wanted to come here to be an Olympic champion, and today I lost one of those opportunities.”Paerson’s list of accomplishments is slightly less sizable than Kostelic’s, but still includes two World Cup overall titles and four world championship golds. She is keen on adding an Olympic gold to her list because in the Salt Lake City Games of 2002, she narrowly missed gold, taking silver in giant slalom and bronze in slalom.None of the American women competing in this year’s games have won an Olympic medal, and only Mancuso, Kirsten Clark, Sarah Schleper and Kristina Koznick have had previous experience at the Games. Mancuso won two bronze medals in last year’s world championship giant slalom and super G events and has had three World Cup podium finishes this season. Kildow has had four, including two victories.

Koznick, who plans to retire after this season, talked earlier in the season of medaling in slalom, but two weeks ago, the Minnesota native partially tore ligaments in her knee and might not compete in the Games.Kildow, who had the top Olympic result for the American women’s team with a sixth place in combined in 2002, is the only one of this year’s group who came to the Games determined to take home, if not gold, then at least some kind of medal.But after a horrific crash in downhill training, Kildow finished eighth in the downhill race, and failed to finish her second slalom run in the combined Friday night.Although Kildow left the race venue limping Friday night, on Saturday afternoon, U.S. team members and officials said that Kildow will ski in Sunday’s super G.As for being on top, racers say skiers like Kostelic have characteristics that go beyond, (but probably lead to), their significant medal collections.

“She’s just mentally very strong,” said Resi Stiegler, who finished 11th in the combined event. “She’s very smooth and she knows how to attack under pressure, and that’s pretty much why she’s the best.”To some women on the U.S Team, simply competing at the Olympics is far more important than being the best. Medals, after all, are just material things.”One thing that is too bad about the United States is that we get so caught up in the medal count,” said Kaylin Richardson, who finished 17th in the combined event, likely her last for the 2006 Games. “The real Olympic spirit is just representing your country,” she said. “This whole competition is a unifying experience. Everyone is giving it 100 percent. I don’t think there can be any regrets at the end of any race if we’re not in the medal count.”


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