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Giant slalom: Can Julia Mancuso again defy expectations?

Four years ago, Julia Mancuso wasn't expected to win the giant slalom at the Turin Olympics. You could say the same thing on this snowy Wednesday morning. Mancuso hasn't finished better than 13th in a World Cup giant slalom race this season.

But Mancuso wasn't expected to win the two silvers she has already won here, and she's perhaps the most intriguing character in the 86-racer field. A look at a few of them, with their starting positions. (First run scheduled for 10 a.m. PST/1 p.m. EST, second at 1:15 p.m. PST/4:15 p.m. EST.)


1st - Katrin Hoelzl, Germany: The giant slalom champion at last year's World Championships, Hoelzl makes her Olympic debut in what amounts to her specialty. She leads the World Cup giant slalom standings and has two GS victories this season.

3rd - Tanja Poutiainen, Finland: The silver medalist behind Mancuso in Sestriere, Italy, Poutiainen is fourth in the World Cup GS standings and has two victories in the discipline this season.

4th - Kathrin Zettel, Austria: Second in the giant slalom standings this season, Zettel has one win in the discipline and was the gold medal winner in the super combined at last year's World Championships.

7th - Tina Maze, Slovenia: The surprise silver medalist in the super-G last week - a race in which she dropped Lindsey Vonn to bronze - Maze is actually a better giant slalom racer. She is third in the standings this season, and has finished eighth or better in five of six giant slaloms thus far.

9th - Anja Paerson, Sweden: One of the toughest competitors on the mountain, Paerson won the sixth Olympic medal of her career with a bronze in the super combined last week. She won silver in the giant slalom in 2002 at Salt Lake City, and has 11 career giant slalom wins in World Cup competition.

17th - Lindsey Vonn, USA: This is, by far, Vonn's weakest discipline, and she has never as much reached a World Cup podium in the event, an amazing stat considering she has 31 World Cup wins across the other four disciplines. She has finished both runs in just two of six GS races this season.

18th - Julia Mancuso, USA: Mancuso has shown that her recent results - struggles after two years of back and hip problems - don't matter here. If she's within shouting distance after the first run, there's every reason to expect she'll excel in the second.

23rd - Sarah Schleper, USA: Schleper is one of the best stories on the American team. Now a four-time Olympian, she returned for these Olympics after the birth of her son, Lasse, now 2. Her best finish in any discipline - she skis just the technical events - is a fifth in slalom in December, and her best finish in six GS races is eighth.

The snow continues to fall. We'll see if we start on time.

By Barry Svrluga  |  February 24, 2010; 12:19 PM ET
Categories:  Lindsey Vonn , Skiing , Vancouver 2010  
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