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 SI.com 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.
February 25, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories: Lindsey Vonn , Skiing , Vancouver 2010
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