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Mancuso finishes third, tied for overall lead

3/4/2007

TARVISIO, Italy -- Julia Mancuso had two long-term goals
growing up as a skier -- winning an Olympic gold medal and hoisting
the overall World Cup trophy.

The Californian accomplished one at last year's Turin Olympics,
winning the giant slalom. And on Sunday, in this far northeastern
corner of Italy, the second moved closer to reality.

Mancuso moved atop the overall World Cup standings for the first
time by finishing third in a super-giant slalom, her third straight
top-three result of the weekend. It was the first time in 24 years
that an American woman had led the standings at any time during a
season.

"It was always my dream to win the Olympics. My other dream was
to win the overall as a kid, maybe that's why it's happening," she
said.

But Mancuso isn't alone atop the standings with six races
remaining this season.

Renate Goetschl won her record 17th super-G by more than a
second to join Mancuso in the overall lead. She skied the 1.2-mile
Prampero course in 1 minute, 18.66 seconds. Austrian teammate
Nicole Hosp was second, 1.01 behind, and Mancuso was third, 1.22
back.

Goetschl and Mancuso are tied with 1,199 points each. Hosp is
third with 1,183. Another Austrian, Marlies Schild, finished 12th
and dropped from first to fourth overall with 1,170.

Goetschl won the overall title in 2000. Mancuso is attempting to
become the first American woman to win since Tamara McKinney in
1983. The closest an American has been to the top since then was
two races into the 1993 season, when Julie Parisien was one point
behind leader Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden.

When Mancuso won gold at the Olympics last year, she had never
won a World Cup race. Now she has four victories this season, and a
shot at winning the large crystal ball awarded to the overall
champion. She could win the overall title despite not winning any
of the discipline titles.

Goetschl already has clinched the downhill and super-G titles,
Schild has locked up the slalom and super-combi crowns, and Hosp
has a 36-point lead on Tanja Poutiainen in the giant slalom
standings with two races remaining.

"I don't really have any explanation for that. It just
happens," Mancuso said. "I've never really thought of a specific
discipline. I always tried to be really consistent in everything,
and that adds up to the overall."

Bode Miller became the first American man to win the overall
title in 22 years when he took the crown in 2005.

Like Miller, Mancuso travels the World Cup circuit in a personal
trailer -- a bus inherited from retired downhiller Daron Rahlves.
Mancuso also resembles Miller in that she is a free spirit.

"This life is a paradise and I'm here to live it," Mancuso
said Sunday. "Ski racing is not the biggest part in the whole
scheme of our lives. We're here to love everyone and have an
infectious smile and blow kisses."

A couple of months after her Olympic success, Mancuso had hip
surgery last April, and that led to a slow start this season. She
won her first World Cup race in December at Val d'Isere, France,
and went on a U.S.-record streak of five straight top-three
finishes in January.

After picking up a silver medal in combined at last month's
world championships, Mancuso returned home to California for a week
to rest up for the race for the overall title.

Only six races remain this season -- two technical events in
Zwiesel, Germany, next weekend and four races at the World Cup
finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, the following week.

"It's going to come down to being fast at the last race,"
Mancuso said. "It's funny to think back to the races where I had
absolutely terrible results and think, wow, that could have made
the difference."

On a spring-like Sunday, with the temperature hitting 41
degrees, a couple of other Americans also fared well on a course
set by U.S. speed coach Alex Hoedlmoser. Stacey Cook finished sixth
and Kaylin Richardson was 11th, with both skiers recording the best
super-G performances of their careers.

Mancuso only started to excel on the World Cup circuit this
season. She turns 23 next week, but this is already her seventh
year on the tour.

"It took me a lot of races. It's been a long journey and every
race seemed to get better and every year seemed to get better, and
I'm still not in a hurry," Mancuso said. "No matter what happens,
I just want to stay positive. I've been able to control the nerves
and really just focus on how fun it is to go out there and rip up
the course."