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Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn: what their relationship is really like

There might be, in the office in which you are sitting now, someone with whom you simply don't have much in common. Sure, you work at the same place, put your efforts into the same endeavors, have a great deal in common professionally -- goals, hopes, experience, etc. -- but you simply don't click personally. You may even talk to colleagues about your distaste for the way that person goes about their business. Yet you are cordial, professional, and accepting.

Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso are both 25. They are both ski racers. They are both intense competitors. They have both been members of the U.S. Ski Team -- in a way, their employer, their company minus the cubicle --- since they were teenagers. They are the two most decorated female skiers the U.S. has produced: Vonn has an Olympic gold and bronze and two World Cup overall titles, the only American woman to win that coveted championship twice. Mancuso is the only American woman to have three Olympic alpine skiing medals -- a gold and two silvers.

But most of the similarities end there. Vonn is from Minnesota and moved to Vail, Col., before she was a teenager for this reason and this reason only: to train to be an Olympic skier, the best in the world. Mancuso is from California, embraces the mellowness of her native Squaw Valley, and spends her summers surfing in Hawaii. Moreover, skiing is a team sport in name only. The two women draw support and coaching from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, but they're not exactly turning double plays together.

Wednesday morning, the worlds of Vonn and Mancuso collided again, in the most dramatic way they have in their careers. And now, the easy temptation is to take their rivalry to another level. Mancuso is jealous, people will say. Vonn doesn't respect Mancuso, people will say. Vonn crashed in the giant slalom simply to mess with Mancuso. Mancuso is irate at Vonn for crashing just before her, stopping Mancuso's run and all but eliminating a chance to defend her gold medal in the event.

Wednesday night, with those storylines taking hold, Mancuso wrote the following on her Facebook page:

"I just want to share with everyone a little insight on the story about mine and Lindsey's relationship. Here's a profile where Lindsey says "We're friendly, but not friends" and you know what?? I don't really care, Lindsey doesn't really care. I know I can speak for both of us when I say we are both stoked when there is an American on the podium, no matter who that is. Of course we both want to win. But the truth is, everyone else seems to be more concerned about how we get along than we even think about it. We are all out there to ski fast and have fun. So save the drama for your mama!"

What happened Wednesday was both unfortunate and extraordinarily coincidental. Nothing more, nothing less. Think of the stars that had to align. Vonn and Mancuso had to have similar rankings in the giant slalom standings in order to be placed in the same group of starters. They then had to be drawn back-to-back, which they were -- Vonn 17th, Mancuso 18th. There had to be inclement weather, which there was -- snow falling throughout the morning, predicted to intensify in the afternoon -- so that the International Ski Federation (FIS) would shorten the interval time from 1 minute 15 seconds (the time the first group of starters had) to a minute even. And Vonn's fall had to come almost precisely at the one-minute mark -- too late to stop Mancuso in the starting gate.

Mancuso was crushed. She cried near the finish area before she regrouped. In an extensive interview with some reporters afterward, she seemed staggered by the unlikelihood of the situation, and she said as much. There are people who would consider this whining. I've heard from a few. But here's part of what Mancuso said.

"We're pushing 100 percent or more for 50 seconds," she said. "That's like running an extra 400-meter sprint, and then having to go up five minutes later and do it again."

Not to mention that the snow conditions were worsening. Mancuso skied 13 starting spots after she was originally supposed to go. The snow continued during that time. "I still skied really well on top," she said, "and as I went down the course just wasn't giving the same reaction back to the skis."

Still, the story couldn't read that simply -- Mancuso stopped, must ski again, and goes slower -- because of Vonn's involvement. Another wrinkle: Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden, who has covered both Vonn and Mancuso for years, sat down with Mancuso the other morning for the piece that became the cover story of the magazine this week -- a cover that featured American medal winners Mancuso, Vonn, Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht.

But there were left-over elements from that interview. In a story on Mancuso that went on prior to the giant slalom, Mancuso offered what people interpreted as the money quote: "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."

Here we go. In the world of sports and journalism and rivalries and celebrity gossip, Vonn was asked for her response. Mancuso was asked to elaborate. It felt like there was some rooting for a full-on cat fight to break out. Where are Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? Who's the Jeff Gillooly in this picture?

"Right now, I'm here to race my GS race and I'm so proud of Team USA," Mancuso said when asked to elaborate on the team's dynamics relative to Vonn. "We've been doing a great job and collecting medals, and that's all I can really ask for right now."

I can't claim to know Vonn or Mancuso well. I have sat down with both of them, interviewed them both several times, and wrote profiles of each prior to these Games. Mancuso's story is here. Vonn's is here. Does it seem like Mancuso would have liked some more attention and acknowledgement of her gold medal from 2006? Sure. Does she understand that Vonn was the pre-Games star not only because she was a threat for four or even five medals, but because Mancuso had struggled for the previous three seasons? Absolutely. Is the relationship colored by the fact that, as Vonn said, "I've been racing with Julia since I was a little kid"? No question.

In the end, though, it seems that their relationship is such: They work in the same place, they have the same goals, they share similar experiences. And they are very different people who, on Wednesday, found themselves in a situation that no one could have drawn up before hand.

By Barry Svrluga  |  February 25, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Lindsey Vonn , Skiing , Vancouver 2010  
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Next: Lindsey Vonn will race in women's slalom despite broken finger


Great story....I wish they would just kiss and make up! :-)

Posted by: rwkw6792 | February 25, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Ahhh, much better. Thanks Barry!

Posted by: BobLHead | February 25, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

So she fell, lost a chance to medal, broke her finger on purpose just to wreck the others day.............SUUURRE YEAH YAH RIGHT.

Posted by: Obamasnotyamama | February 25, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

You see a similar dynamic in motorcycle and auto racing teams. The riders/drivers race for the same team, and you might (or might not) like the other racer. You're both racing for the same thing, and it pulls in two directions. You both want the team to do well, so it's good when your teammate wins.

But it's even better if you win. By necessity, that means you want to beat your teammate in addition to the other racers.

Sometimes there is animosity on top of it, but oftentimes it is as simple as the inevitable professional clash of goals between two motivated competitors.

Posted by: commenting | February 25, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I just think these gurls are both too sexy to share the spotlight...bottom line if you ask me...probably a little jealousy thing brewing or has been going on for a while now.

And maybe, just maybe...these girls are trying to play down the fact that either onw of them, regardless of who has medals or not, is going to do a Playboy spread first, catapulting them into every young man's dreams?

Muahahahahahaa! I say go Lindsey AND Julia! =D

Posted by: cbmuzik | February 25, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Who cares? Shouldn't this be in the Daily Star or the National Enquirer?

Posted by: WildBill1 | February 25, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Settle this in your bikinis in a vat of jello!

Posted by: jwm1974 | February 25, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Blame all of this on NBC's obsessive need to treat the Olympics like a scripted drama. Months ago they decided on the "stories" that would drive their coverage. They selected Lindsey and Shaun White and Apolo Ono and the rest, and built extensive story lines around them. This works very well as long as the athletes perform as the script writers expect. But if their performance is poor or things go very wrong, as in this case, the story lines have to be salvaged in some way. Lindsey did not perform as expected but NBC is in too deep to drop her. The narrative must be played out to the end, otherwise all the careful arrangements with coaches and sponsors for access and interviews is for nothing. The actual competitions mean nothing to NBC. Only the story arc counts. Consider the relentless references to the Torino games, constantly asking their stars to reflect back on what happened there. The athletes don't care about the past -- they care about winning now. But building the story requires some prologue, so Matt Lauer is sent out to dutifully hammer Lindsey Jacobellis for a rehash her mistakes at the snowboarding finish line and the subsequent loss of the gold medal. Jacobellis is obviously annoyed but she goes along because she's in the "story" and her post-Games appearances on SNL and Leno depend on it.

So what we are witnessing here is real life smashing head-on into the NBC Olympic fable. ABC, back in the Wide World of Sports days, made the competition the story, and dealt with the winning and losing athletes "on the fly," as the story developed. NBC, lead-footed and dull-witted, cannot handle the ambiguity of championship athletic competition. So their script writers are doing all-nighters to quickly fashion a new narrative before the audience gets bored and leaves. But thanks be to God! A catfight between Vonn and her number-one rival! A gift from the programming gods. The story is saved.

One last thing -- Matt Lauer is turning into a girl before our very eyes, the worlds most sensitive man. Wastching him the other day I thought he was going to ask Vonn if he could borrow some of her clothes and then have a slumber party after they finished shopping at the mall.

Posted by: sheehanjc | February 25, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Ultimately, who cares? It's a sport, entertainment, and that's it.
The world would turn if Mancuso, or Vonn, or downhill skiing vanished from the face of the earth.

Posted by: FilmMD | February 25, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed watching both of these athletes...Vonn and Mancuso should be proud of their efforts. As an American, it makes me proud to root for them.

The press and their writers -- most of whom will never understand the pressures of Olympic competition and event training -- should go fly a kite.

I don't care how well a writer or broadcast commentator may think they know an athlete, they can never fully identify with the hard work it takes to be in the Olympics.

Kudos for Vonn and Mancuso...

Posted by: Vunderlutz | February 25, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

It seems that there is more than competition between Mancuso and Vonn. It seems there is a little Mancuso jealousy because Vonn is getting most of the media attention. I've got a suggestion for Mancuso. Rather than crying because you had to restart your run, try winning all of your events. I guarantee the media attention will shift to you.

Posted by: Cherokee1 | February 25, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

As someone who does not watch this sport regularly, my biggest beef is actually with the skiing officials who made the call to shorten the start times. I erroneously thought that each skier begins when the previous skier had completed the course (that's the magic of television I guess). Why don't they do this especially when so many people have been crashing in Vancouver? What idiotic officiating.

Posted by: Blinkie | February 25, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Big deal. It is time for the skiers to grow up.

Atleast Mancuso got another chance to ski and she should have asked for more time to regroup if she needed to. The Dutchman was stripped off a gold because his coach made a bonehead mistake and forced him to change lanes. He didn't even get another chance.

Posted by: thinkagain | February 25, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

sheehanjc has it right. I understand everything Mancuso has said, but NBC and the rest of the media are looking for stories and more imporatantly drama. THE MEDIA IS CREATING A STORY WITH THIS!!!

Sadly most americans can easily follow the drama than relate to the sport. That's why sports are failing in America.

Posted by: oknow1 | February 25, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I must admit I was confused as to why they bothered to stop Mancuso. Vonn crashed into the fence and was well out of the designated ski path. Mancuso would have had to have fallen in the exact same location with the exact same trajectory from the course to have landed anywhere near Vonn. That's at lot of ifs. Unless every other skier to come down the mountain prior had crashed into that same section of fence, there was no reason to believe there was much likelihood of it happening again in the exact same place. (And if that WAS happening, they wouldn't be letting multiple racers go down the slope at the same time anyway.) When you consider the risk involved, in general, of these athletes performing in such slippery, icy conditions at these high speeds--particularly luge--there really didn't seem to be that much more of an increase in the potential danger to either of them than what was already present with the nature of their sport.

Now if Vonn had been lying with her neck broken right in the middle of the ski path, the circumstances would have been much different and certainly have merited stopping Mancuso.

Finally, I don't know why certain posters here seem to be giving Mancuso sh!t for crying afterward. Being upset about the circumstances doesn't mean she BLAMES Vonn for falling down. I'm sure she's SOOOOOO sorry that she didn't have the "appropriate" visceral response to her own Olympic moment captured on camera for all of the fat armchair critics watching at home.

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | February 25, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

My dad worked course crew for the women's downhill at Salt Lake (and at the World Cup there). It's a huge safety issue to have a racer go when there's a skier down anywhere on the course. In less than half a minute, they can't tell what the problem with a crashed racer is... they can't tell until they get there that, oh, Vonn just hurt her hand. They may have needed to bring in a backboard for her, and would have needed space on the course. And if Mancuso crashed at a different point on the course, they would have had to have dealt with two crashes at once, and split their focus. Not to mention, Vonn was right below a gate, so Mancuso could have been spooked by seeing the ski patrol and the crowd around Vonn, which could have been dangerous for her. If you listened to her interview after, the yellow flag almost spooked her. Stopping Mancuso was absolutely the right call. It sucks for both women... and it would have sucked for any other woman dealing with that. It just happened to be a big contender that the media could play up. Best of luck to Mancuso in her second run... hopefully she can make up some time and get on the podium!

Posted by: alizadk | February 25, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

The world was a much better place two weeks ago, when I'd never heard of either of these drama queens. I don't care how "hot" they are; please, just go away!

Posted by: TCooper44 | February 25, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

*shrug* Both Mancuso and Vonn are world class skiiers. As evidenced by their performance in Vancouver.

However, Vonn - being blonder - makes for better media coverage. Why it was such a "surprise" that Mancuso is medaling is beyond me - she medalled in Turin and she's hardly a decrepit waste of a human now.

I really want to enjoy the Olympics, but I just can't. I can't stand the commentary and cut and paste coverage...except, of course the finals of Ladies Figure Skating where they provided you live, uninterrupted coverage.

I so hope ESPN/Disney/ABC gets the Olympics back soon.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 26, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

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