Alpine skiing’s big-stage performer
US Alpine skier Julia Mancuso climbed on to the podium at all three of the Olympic Winter Games she graced, winning medals of every colour and becoming the most decorated female US Olympian in her sport.
Brought up in the Sierra Nevada (USA), Julia Mancuso first took to the slopes at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, showing terrific promise across all Alpine events. She competed in her first FIS World Cup race in 1999, a few months after she turned 15. In 2001, the versatile American bagged her first World Cup points in the super-G and slalom, before making her Olympic debut as a 17-year-old at Salt Lake City 2002, where she finished 13th in the combined.
However, it was at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships that she truly laid down a marker, claiming gold medals in the downhill, giant slalom and combined in Tarvisio (ITA) in 2002 and in the super-G in Puy-Saint-Vincent (FRA) in 2003. The following year, she again prevailed in the combined event in Maribor (SLO), taking her junior medal haul to eight (including five golds), a record for an American skier.
Even prior to making her first World Cup podium appearance, Mancuso had already demonstrated her ability to perform under pressure by landing two bronze medals (giant slalom and super-G) at the 2005 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Bormio (ITA). Indeed, her first senior victory came under the most intense of spotlights, as she secured an unexpected Olympic giant slalom gold at Turin 2006.
Double silver in Vancouver
Following that surprise success, Mancuso continued to impress, earning top-three World Cup finishes in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and combined, and winning a silver medal in the super combined at the 2007 World Championships in Åre (SWE). At Vancouver 2010, she clinched two runner-up spots in 24 hours, making it an American one-two with Lindsey Vonn in the downhill, and subsequently finishing just under a second behind Germany’s Maria Riesch in the super combined.
Record medal count
While Mancuso boasted a relatively small number of successes (seven victories and 36 podiums) on the World Cup circuit over the course of her long career, she tended to reserve her best performances for the biggest stages. At the 2013 World Championships in Schladming (AUT), the confident American won a silver in super-G, her fifth medal at that level, while at Sochi 2014 she dominated the downhill leg of the super combined competition at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort to pick up a well-deserved bronze. That achievement, which she greeted with a shriek of joy, made her US Alpine skiing’s most decorated female Olympian. “At the Games, anything is possible. You just have to believe in yourself,” she says.
Wonder woman bows out
Mancuso recorded the 36th podium finish of her World Cup career in the downhill at Lake Louise (CAN) on 6 December 2014. It would be her last. After undergoing a hip operation at the end of the winter, she missed the following two seasons altogether before returning in a bid to make the USA team for PyeongChang 2018.
She failed, and at the age of 33 made her competitive farewell in Cortina d’Ampezzo (ITA) on 19 January 2018, descending the Olympia Delle Tofane dressed as Wonder Woman, her red cape fluttering in the wind and her team-mates waiting to greet her in the finish area at the end of the 399th and final race of her sparkling career.