KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – When U.S. skier Stacey Cook was asked several days ago what it was going to take to win a medal in Sochi, she looked at teammate Julia Mancuso and deadpanned.
The statement was legitimate Monday as Mancuso once again came up big on the Olympic stage, winning bronze in the super combined event. She dusted all comers in the downhill portion, but fell short of a gold-medal performance in slalom, finishing with a combined time of 2:35.15.
Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Austria's Nicole Hosp posted better times in the slalom to move past Mancuso and win gold and silver, respectively.
Mancuso admitted she was uncertain about the slalom portion of the event, noting that she hasn't worked on the discipline consistently since early 2013. Even finishing the slalom was a relief.
"I haven't raced a full length of slalom since last year," Mancuso said. "That was definitely on my mind when I kicked out of the starting gate. …Crossing the finish line was definitely a surprise.
"Super combined wasn't one of the events I was thinking gold [was possible]. A medal was kind of a long shot, too."
The bronze delivered the U.S. its first Alpine medal of these games, and Mancuso's downhill performance installed her as one of the favorites in that event on Wednesday.
"It's like something in the waters," Mancuso said of her penchant for big-event performances. "I grew up in an Olympic valley [in Lake Tahoe]. It's in my blood. …It was a great downhill run. I kicked out of the gate wanting to win and tried being as aerodynamic as possible."
Mancuso's bronze accomplished something unlikely coming into these Games: filling a medal void created by the absence of Lindsey Vonn. It was Vonn who has long dominated the super combined on the World Cup circuit. But it was also Vonn who failed to finish in Vancouver after winning the downhill portion of the event. Mancuso fared far better in that race, winning silver and salvaging what was arguably the most disappointing Alpine moment in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Games also continued to build Mancuso's reputation as a clutch skier, as she appeared to peak while winning her silver in the super combined and then a second silver in the downhill. She now has four total medals in the past three Olympic Games – the most by an American woman in Alpine skiing – including a giant slalom gold in the 2006 Turin Games.
Hoefl-Riesch – a close friend of Vonn – was the prohibitive favorite going into Monday's super combined, having won the world championships in the event. It was also Hoefl-Riesch who bested Mancuso in the Vancouver Games after Vonn failed to finish, opening the door for Mancuso's silver. Hoefl-Riesch again finished on top of the podium.
"Nothing surprises me with [Mancuso]," Hoefl-Riesch said. "She always does really well in the big races."