At 29 years of age, Julia Mancuso has put together a career that is unmatched in the sport of alpine skiing in the United States. With three Olympic medals and five World Championship titles already to her credit, Mancuso is easily the most accomplished female skier in U.S. history.
On Sunday, Mancuso added another major accolade to her already-storied career.
Competing in the Super Combined event in her fourth Olympic Games, Mancuso used her dominant run in the downhill portion of the event to capture a bronze medal.
No other American female Alpine skier has more than two medals—Picabo Street and Lindsey Vonn—and Mancuso now has four.
In fact, only four women in history have more medals than Mancuso— Croatia's Janica Kostelic and Sweden's Anja Paerson with six, and Switzerland's Vreni Schneider and Germany's Katja Seizinger with five.
Even more amazing is the fact that Mancuso have never been dominant in non-Olympic events. In fact, Vonn has 59 World Cup overall victories to her credit, while Mancuso has just seven.
But it’s the Olympics we’re talking about, and on that stage Mancuso is the clear queen.
She proved it once again on Sunday, barreling down the hill in the downhill in a blazing time of 1:42.68, almost a half-second better than any other competitor.
The challenge for Mancuso would be the slalom, an event that she normally skips during normal competition. Adding to the challenge is that the slalom course at Sochi was treacherous at best. Nine racers failed to finish their slalom runs, many of them missing gates in the top half of the run, considered steep and tricky.
If Mancuso could safely navigate the tough gates at the top of the hill, there was a good chance that she would stand on the medal podium. She had already watched as three potential medal favorites had already disqualified themselves on the slalom.
Mancuso was indeed successful in getting down the hill safely, but her overall time suffered greatly—she finished a full second and a half behind German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who would go on to capture her second straight gold medal after finishing on top at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as well.
"I skied my heart out," Mancuso told reporters. "That was really tough. It was a really, really difficult slalom run. I knew I just had to give my best shot. It sure didn't feel good."
What likely aided Mancuso in her slalom was the fact that the course had been roughed up due to spring-like weather on Sunday, conditions that Mancuso are used to back home at Squaw Valley, California.
Mancuso’s overall time was good enough for third place overall, and while it might be disappointing for many skiers, Mancuso was thrilled just to be able to survive the extremely treacherous slalom.
Mancuso will have the chance to medal once again as she’s scheduled to compete in the Super-G and downhill events as well. By the time these Olympics are over, Mancuso will have cemented her status as America’s greatest-ever skier.
Now, the U.S. will pin their hopes on Mancuso for the women’s downhill event on Wednesday. With fellow American Vonn out of the competition with a knee injury, Mancuso is without question a favorite. And Mancuso uses the Olympics as her motivation.
"I just know to never give up," she said. "That's a big part of it. The Olympics just causes me to bring that extra bit of intensity."
It’s that intensity that gives Mancuso a decided edge over many other competitors, and it’s that Olympic edge that has given her the moniker of America’s best.