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World Cup skiing: Finally a downhill for Mancuso and company

U.S. Ski Team reports

ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria ” The women’s U.S. Alpine Ski Team would like to pick up where it left off two years ago during the Austrian speed swing at Zauchensee, when Squaw Valley’s Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn and Resi Stiegler finished one-two-four in the super combined.

It was the best finish for the U.S. women’s team since 1984, and Mancuso made the weekend twice as sweet when she added a third in the downhill for a weekend podium double.

The schedule is the same as in ’07 with a super combi set for Saturday, followed by a downhill on Sunday. But organizers and athletes are hoping to change one thing: They would like to run the downhill from the top ” a rocky perch at 7,139 feet accessible by a small cog rail that moves racers a few more hundred feet to the start shack.

Only a men’s race has been held from the top. Women have run the course from there during training runs, but have yet to start an official race as wind and poor visibility nixed the option in ’07. With good weather expected for the weekend, Speed Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser expects that to change.

Mancuso can’t wait.

“This is a really cool slope because it’s a little different than the other downhills,” said a resurging Mancuso, who was 12th and seventh in the trainers. “There are so many big swooping turns and you kind of have to go with what you have and try to build speed from there. It’s pretty technical and you have to go with your instincts.”

It’s game on directly from the start as the pitch takes an immediate nose dive onto a long section of short turns and rolls before gaining speed and sending the racers nearly 100 feet off the “Hot Air” jump and into an immediate left boot turn. Up next is the Jagersprung, an 80-footer that precedes the forest jump and a series of six high-speed turns slicing through the fenced-off trees.

“You have to be on it there or you’re in the fence,” says Hoedlmoser, a former racer who’s home is just a few dozen miles from Zauchensee. “Any little bit off line and you’re either going to be very slow trying to recover or tangled in the net.”

After exiting the woods, the course opens considerably with a five high-speed gates into the finish jump and the race arena to the roar of thousands of fans. With fast times just under 1:50, the Weltcupstrecke piste is the longest on the women’s circuit. Wobbly legs off the final jump have claimed more than one racer in the tracks history.

“There aren’t any real long flats and there’s always something coming at you,” said Mancuso, who went on to finish third in the ’07 overall World Cup standings. “You have to get around the corners in the trees because there’s fences on both sides. The jumps are fun because we don’t get very many jumps in our courses so it’s nice to get a little air under your legs.”

For Vonn, the reigning downhill and overall World Cup champion, the upcoming speed races are a welcome sight after weather canceled two of the three downhills on the calendar earlier this season. Vonn won the lone race in Lake Louise, Alberta, for her fifth victory on the Canadian speed track, more than any racer and solidifying the event nickname as “Lake Lindsey.”

“My slalom and giant slalom has been going really well, so I can’t complain, but I’m so excited to get back to speed,” said Vonn, who surpassed Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves last season to became the most successful American downhiller. “I like the speed mentality better because you can really get your equipment working for you no matter what the conditions.”

The U.S. Ski Team will have a full slate of starters for both races with Vonn, Mancuso, Truckee native Stacey Cook, Leanne Smith, Chelsea Marshall, Kaylin Richardson and Caroline Lalive all ready to go.


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