Squaw’s Mancuso Tops DH, Vonn Takes Overall Lead

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland – It had been a long four years since American Julia Mancuso had topped a World Cup podium. She was back with vengeance today as women’s competition at the 2011 World Cup Finals kicked off with the downhill and plenty of excitement in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

Mancuso’s impressive win, the fifth of her career, left no doubters as she screamed down the course 0.81 seconds faster than second-place finisher, Swiss Lara Gut. Downhill world champion, Austrian Elizabeth Goergl finished third, 1.15 seconds back. Mancuso’s last win came in March of 2007 with a downhill victory in Tarvisio, Italy.

“It’s the first time in four years, it’s great to be back winning,” said Mancuso. “I watched Lara [Gut] ski so I knew I had to ski really fast because she nailed it. That’s all it was, all or nothing this time, last downhill of the season so it feels good.”

American Lindsey Vonn claimed her fourth consecutive downhill globe mathematically two weeks ago in Tarvisio but was finally able to lay a big kiss on her trophy today after finishing fourth. Perhaps the biggest news of the day also followed Vonn as she took back the overall lead from German Maria Riesch (17th today) for the first time since late December. Today’s results saw a 50-point swing in the overall standings as Vonn went from 23 points behind to 27 points ahead of her friend Riesch with three races (SG, GS, SL) ahead before the season ends this weekend.

“It was tough conditions out there today with really soft snow and flat light,” said Vonn. “It was really easy to make mistakes and unfortunately I made one on the top of the course in a pretty bad place and lost a lot of speed but I was able to ski the bottom well. Fourth place is still a great result, I’m really happy for Julia for winning, she skied amazingly well.”

The win was enough to move Mancuso into third in the season-long downhill standings behind Vonn and Riesch in second.

Today’s women’s race was held after the men’s on the same short (2320-meter), technical course.

Mancuso, who had the second fastest time in yesterday’s training run, said the turny course fit her style.

“Leaving the start gate I knew I had to push really hard and be fast and I wanted to win,” said Mancuso, the penultimate racer down the course. “I knew it would be a good opportunity here for me and those don’t come around all the time so I took advantage of it and I’m just really happy.

“I’ve been working through injuries and working hard for the past four years and I’m finally back on the podium, it feels great,” said Mancuso who was also back in the top three of any discipline standings for the first time since 2007. “I switched to Voelkl skis [this season] and everything has been working really well for me so it just gives me a lot of confidence that next year is going to be even better.”

Overnight temperatures stayed above the freezing line and overcast skies remained throughout the day as course workers used chemicals to coax the surface into firming up. Temps stayed around 42 F during the race.

The field of competitors in each race at the World Cup Finals is trimmed down to the top 25 ranked skiers in each discipline along with the reigning world champion and world junior champ. Only 23 started today.

Riesch, winner of three World Cup downhills this year, was slowed by a mid-course mistake that led to her fourth sub-top-15 result in a race she finished this season. Riesch was 216 points ahead of Vonn less than a month ago but a DNF and a 29th-place finish in last weekend’s tech races in Spindleruv coupled with solid result from Vonn saw the momentum shift toward the three-time overall champion heading into the closing week of competition. Riesch has never won a overall title.

“I’m only a couple points ahead so I still feel like I’m the underdog,” said Vonn. “I have to make some points tomorrow and we’ll see how I am going into the last two technical races. Maria is dangerous in all events so I have to be ready and on my game in every race.”

American Stacey Cook put together a solid run with a great bottom section to finish ninth, 2.25 seconds behind.Teammate Leanne Smith finished 16th.

Racing was delayed for several minutes early on as medical staff attended to Austrian Andrea Fischbacher (bib 9), who, two gates from the finish line, slipped onto her back and spun into the fencing on the left side of the course. She appeared to have escaped with only a sore neck after skiing into the finish area. Three racers later, action was momentarily paused again as Italian Daniela Merighetti fell to her side around a wide left-hand turn, taking a gate to the head and whirling into the safety netting. Merighetti also skied her way to the bottom.

The World Cup Finals continue tomorrow with men’s and women’s super G races. The women’s slalom is scheduled for Friday, March 18 and the giant slalom is slated for Saturday, March 19. The season will close with a team event Sunday, March 20.

For more details including results visit SkiRacing.com.