Forgive Julia Mancuso if she too often has to play Jan to Lindsey Vonn’s Marcia on the World Cup circuit.
Lindsey, Lindsey, Lindsey.
Skiing in the shadow of Vonn’s star power in Vancouver four years ago, the Lake Tahoe native came away with a pair of silver medals, despite not having made the World Cup podium all season long. Well, flash forward four years and it’s a similar situation in Sochi, where Mancuso is skiing in the Winter Olympics with nary a single appearance on the Cup’s podium, yet took a bronze medal Monday in the women’s super-combined.
Pam Fletcher saw it coming for Mancuso, who tends to shine the bigger the event.
“I’m extremely excited for this year’s Olympics because I think the Alpine squad we have going in - even minus Lindsey Vonn - is a really strong squad,” the former Olympian said last week. “A lot of the time it’s all about Lindsey, which is great, she’s one of the best women’s skiers we’ve seen ever. Worldwide. But you can’t count out people like Julia Mancuso.”
Fletcher’s Olympic glory wasn’t quite on par with that of Mancuso’s. A member of the US Ski Team for nine years, she made the 1988 Winter Games at Calgary, but never got to race in the downhill. She collided with a course worker prior to the race and broke her leg. Soon after, the race was called due to high winds, making the loss doubly as devastating for the Massachusetts native.
“I’ve always said that some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed,” she said.
These days, Fletcher, who has also served as a skiing commentator for TNT during two other Winter Olympics, serves as the events marketing and sales manager at Nashoba Valley, the Westford ski area that her parents founded 50 years ago. But she also still studies the sport near to her heart very closely, and clearly knows the tendencies and skills of the US Alpine team competing in Russia.
While Mancuso may have brought the US its first Alpine medal on Monday, Fletcher thinks there are plenty more on the way, particularly from the likes of Ted Ligety, Bode Miller, and 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, the Burke Academy phenom who has been thrust into the Olympic spotlight.
“She has shown such promise, and it’s a very interesting approach with Shiffrin,” Fletcher said, adding that she expects Shiffrin to podium in both the slalom and giant slalom. “She’s worked so hard to study the actual, technical skills of the game itself. She watches video of Bode and Ted Ligety and whoever else might be having the best, actual form, and studies it to perfection and really focuses on the task at hand.”
Fletcher called success at these Olympics a mind game, which is why she’s confident in what Miller (who finished eighth in Sunday’s downhill) and Ligety can bring the US on the slopes, particularly in an Olympics peppered with controversy in Russia. “Once you’re there, it’s who’s the strongest in the head,” she said. “You can wipe the slate clean and focus on the task at hand. That can be tough to do for some of these kids.”
As for Miller, a skier Fletcher called one of the greatest of all time, these Olympics have signified a shift from the Miller who spent the 2006 Games in Turin peppered with controversy as he elected to stay on his own, away from teammates, in an RV. After offseason knee injury two years ago, Miller got married to professional beach volleyball player Morgan Beck, and it appears to have made him a changed man off the slope. On it, he’s the same he’s ever been, even at the age of 36, a recovery that Fletcher called, “insane.”
“Here’s a guy who was a rebel and lived in an RV and trained on his own, and now he’s realized the value of what that training with the team brings to the table, how you can bring energy from your teammates,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher’s own energy for the sport also remains evident, even as she recently suffered another minor injury recently, this time on the slopes at Vail where her boyfriend ended up running into her. That has cut down her skiing time as of late, the perfect excuse to sit in front of the TV, or a laptop, and watch the next generation of skiers compete in the Olympics.
“Even though you’ve got a Bode Miller and a Ted Ligety who have proven themselves this whole World Cup season, and you know how badly they want these medals, they’ve been in the spotlight before. They know what it takes to shut out all the noise and focus on what you need to do.”
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.