Two weeks before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Lindsey Vonn appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated crowned as “America’s best woman skier ever.”
With two of her five events complete in Vancouver, Vonn has done nothing to dissuade anyone of that notion.
Despite an injured right shin, Vonn won the women’s downhill in convincing fashion. While the gold and bronze medals were separated by less than a 10th of a second in the men’s event, Vonn finished a whopping 1.47 seconds better than Austrian bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl.
A day later in the women’s super combined, Vonn once again distanced herself from her competitors in the downhill. A fall in the slalom portion of the event cost her a second Olympic medal, but she had positioned herself to reach the podium in an event in which she was not favored.
Up to this point in the Olympics, she has lived up to the hype and expectations placed on her by the American media.
But, with two of the women’s five alpine events in the books one has to question whether Vonn is in fact “America’s best woman skier ever” or even the best female alpine skier on the American team in Vancouver.
With two silver medals already at these Games in the downhill and super combined, the 25-year old Nevadan Julia Mancuso has put herself in the thick of that discussion.
There is not even much of a debate as to who is the more accomplished Olympian when you compare the two women’s Winter Games’ resumés.
It is Mancuso.
Both Mancuso and Vonn are in their third Olympics at age 25. Mancuso has won three medals, the most by any American female alpine skier in history, to Vonn’s one. The two women each have one gold medal to their name. Mancuso won the giant slalom in Torino four years ago and Vonn won the women’s downhill on Wednesday.
Without question, Vonn’s non-Olympic body of work is stronger.
Vonn has won an American record 31 World Cup races in her career. She has twice finished the World Cup season as the top-ranked skier in the world in the overall, Super-G, and downhill standings. Vonn also won World Championship gold in both the Super-G and downhill in 2009 and took silver in both events in 2007.
Mancuso has won just four World Cup races and none since 2007. However, she has performed well at World Championships, even if her record doesn’t match that of Vonn.
Mancuso won silver in the super combined at the 2005 Worlds and bronze in both the Super-G and giant slalom in 2007. That’s three World Championship medals to Vonn’s four.
What makes Mancuso’s accomplishments all the more remarkable is the success she has experienced in all five alpine events. Vonn has only medaled at the Olympics and World Championships in the downhill and Super-G, while Mancuso has also medaled in the super combined and giant slalom.
With the women’s Super-G, slalom, and giant slalom still to come at these Olympics, a lot remains to be settled between Vonn and Mancuso.
Neither is expected to medal at the slalom, while Vonn is the favorite at the Super-G, and Mancuso is the defending gold medalist in the giant slalom.
Mancuso didn’t come into these Olympics as a podium favorite in either the Super-G or the giant slalom. But historically she has performed better in those events than the two she has already medaled in at Vancouver.
Given her current form she should now be seen as a medal favorite in the giant slalom, if not the Super-G as well.
If you had to pick, Mancuso would be the better bet to walk away from Vancouver with three or more medals. Throw in the Olympic gold she won four years ago and one would be hard pressed to call Vonn America’s best Olympic female alpine skier of all time, even if she lives up to expectations and wins a second gold in the Super-G.
That is not to say that Vonn should not be considered “America’s best woman skier ever.” It is not to say that all that matters are Olympic medals, and that Vonn’s consistent success on the World Cup circuit should be discounted.
But with the media fascination surrounding Lindsey Vonn at these Olympics, it is worth mentioning that Mancuso is one of the best alpine skiers in American history as well. And she has the potential to end up as a bigger star of the Vancouver Games.