Skip to content

Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

Jan 11, 2014, 7:23 AM EDT

Audi FIS World Cup - Women's Downhill Training

The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

 Lindsey Vonn adopts dog with ‘bum knee’

Latest Posts
  1. Lolo Jones sheds weight, returns to track at Drake Relays

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:57 PM EDT

    Lolo Jones AP

    Jones explains difficulty of returning to track workouts.

  2. Michael Phelps wins his first preliminary race since London Olympics

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps AP

    Phelps is swimming competitively for the first time since the London Olympics.

  3. Erin Hamlin, bronze medal hanging with the stars since Sochi Olympics

    Apr 24, 2014, 2:01 PM EDT

    Erin Hamlin Getty Images

    Olympic bronze medalist explains what President Obama told her about luge.

  4. Elizabeth Price retires from U.S. National Gymnastics Team

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:42 PM EDT

    Elizabeth Price AP

    2012 Olympic alternate announces college plans.

  5. Meb Keflezighi throws first pitch at Red Sox game (photos, video)

    Apr 24, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT

    Meb Keflezighi

    Boston Marathon winner met Derek Jeter, David Ortiz.

  6. Ryan Lochte inspired by Michael Phelps’ return (video)

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:34 PM EDT

    Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Lochte said he almost didn’t come back to swimming after knee injury.

  7. Michael Phelps ready to start ‘journey’ in comeback meet

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Phelps says he gained 30 pounds in retirement but has shed most of it in training.

  8. Michael Phelps no longer sponsored by Speedo

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Phelps’ contract with Speedo ran out at the end of 2013 after a 12-year run.

  9. Another Michael set to make splash at Mesa Grand Prix

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:18 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps, Michael Andrew Courtesy Tina Andrew

    Michael Andrew, 15, turned pro last year and has been drawing comparisons to Michael Phelps.

  10. Michael Phelps’ comeback at Mesa Grand Prix competition, broadcast schedules

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT

    Michael Phelps AP

    When to watch Michael Phelps’ return to competition.

  11. Meb Keflezighi congratulated by President Obama

    Apr 22, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Meb Keflezighi AP

    How Keflezighi spent the morning after his upset victory.

  12. Ryan Hall, other U.S. runners wouldn’t help East Africans catch Meb Keflezighi

    Apr 22, 2014, 1:57 PM EDT

    Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi AP

    Americans’ tactic played small role in Keflezighi’s victory.

  13. Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski added to NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage

    Apr 22, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT

    Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski Getty Images

    Sochi figure skating analysts will be fashion experts at Churchill Downs.

  14. Apolo Ohno plans to do Ironman World Championships

    Apr 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EDT

    Apolo Anton Ohno AP

    Ohno follows NFL wide receiver, celebrity chef in ambitious attempt.

  15. Lance Armstrong’s longtime team manager banned 10 years

    Apr 22, 2014, 8:21 AM EDT

    Johan Bruyneel AP

    Johan Bruyneel guided Lance Armstrong’s teams for all seven stripped Tour de France wins.

  16. Emotions flow for runners, spectators at Boston Marathon

    Apr 21, 2014, 8:42 PM EDT

    Boston Strong AP

    “I needed it for healing,” one survivor said.

  17. Meb Keflezighi stuns to win Boston Marathon (video)

    Apr 21, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Meb Keflezighi AP

    First U.S. man to win Boston Marathon since 1983.

  18. 2014 Boston Marathon highlights: American Meb Keflezighi, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo win (VIDEO)

    Apr 21, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT

    2014 B.A.A. Boston Marathon Getty Images

    Meb Keflezighi made history on an emotional day at the 2014 Boston Marathon by becoming the first American man to win the race since 1983. Watch highlights of the 38-year-old Keflezighi’s victory here, courtesy of Universal Sports: Keflezighi reacts to his historic win and the emotion of winning one year after the Boston Marathon bombing,…

  19. Rita Jeptoo repeats as Boston Marathon winner in course record

    Apr 21, 2014, 11:54 AM EDT

    Rita Jeptoo Getty Images

    Shalane Flanagan led early but was dropped around 21 miles.

  20. Tatyana McFadden wins another Boston Marathon on special day

    Apr 21, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT

    Tatyana McFadden AP

    Paralympic champion prevails one month after winning silver in Sochi.

Featured video

Inside Michael Phelps' comeback