Mancuso leads Americans in Aspen World Cup |

Mancuso leads Americans in Aspen World Cup

ASPEN, Colo. – Her workday done after one poor run, Lindsey Vonn was walking away from the closest thing to a hometown slope on the World Cup circuit when a fan in a passing car yelled some encouragement.

“That was definitely not what I’ve been skiing like,” said Vonn, the two-time defending overall champion from Vail, Colo. “So it’s just a little bit disappointing.”

On a rough day for Americans, Vonn blamed a rock for her troubles, saying her right ski clipped a stone in the top part of the run. Unsettled, she wound up 39th; only the top 30 women advanced to the second run, where Kathrin Hoelzl of Germany earned her first career World Cup victory.

At least Vonn managed to chuckle about the sort of result that does not fit with the outsized expectations she’ll be carrying to the Vancouver Olympics in February.

“I was just trying to make it down, and I was, like, laughing at myself,” Vonn said, “because I knew how big of a tool I looked like.”

Her U.S. teammate, reigning Olympic GS champion Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif., did get to make two runs but wound up 13th overall behind Hoelzl, the 2008 world champion in giant slalom.

On this day, the German dealt with an icy, bumpy course better than anyone.

“Today, it was pretty icy – I think too icy for many of the girls,” Hoelzl said. “But my (equipment) is perfect on ice.”

Her first run was nearly a half-second faster than anyone else’s – more than 41/2 seconds better than Vonn’s – and she used that advantage to hold off runner-up Kathrin Zettel of Austria in the second run.

Federica Brignone of Italy was third, the initial podium finish for the 19-year-old daughter of Maria Rosa Quario, who won four World Cup slaloms from 1979-83.

“She gives me advice about life,” Brignone said, “not about skiing.”

Hoelzl finished with a total time of 2 minutes, 9.63 seconds in the first North American stop on the circuit. Zettel was 0.24 back, the only competitor within a second of the winner.

Hoelzl “loves these conditions,” Zettel said.

Brignone was one of four Italians in the top nine finishers. Compare that to how the hosts fared: Sarah Schleper, in 23rd place, was the only American other than Mancuso in the top 27.

Mancuso put a positive spin on her showing, well aware that she is a work-in-progress at this point. She is trying to get back among the top World Cup racers after nagging back problems hampered her last season, when she failed to get any top-three finishes.

After missing a gate in the season-opening giant slalom at Soelden, Austria, last month, Mancuso was pleased with Saturday’s effort.

“I’m psyched to get two solid runs in. Second run could’ve definitely been better, but I made it to the finish, and it feels pretty good,” Mancuso said.

“Helps a lot, just to know that I can go charge again, go out of the gate and just go for it,” she said. “It’s made a big difference, because I don’t want to be tentative when I’m leaving that start gate.”

Mancuso and other competitors talked about bouncing around on the slopes.

“There’s definitely a few rocks in the ice,” Mancuso said. “I guess it’s all about luck.”

Hoelzl’s previous best World Cup finishes both came in giant slaloms: a second place in March 2007, and a third in January 2009. But she did win the GS at last year’s world championships, a race Vonn skipped because she had cut her thumb on a champagne bottle during a victory celebration.

Vonn finished fourth in the giant slalom at Aspen last year, and she’s never fared better in this discipline while being dominant in others.

She gets another chance to perform in front of her large contingent of local supporters on Sunday. Vonn was runner-up to Maria Riesch of Germany in the season’s first World Cup slalom at Levi, Finland, two weeks ago.

“Aspen is the toughest place for me. It’s got so much terrain. It’s like sheer pond ice,” Vonn said. “Hopefully tomorrow goes better.”

On Sunday, an hour after a second consecutive World Cup washout, Vonn was smiling and chatty, betraying no worries about her form or preparation, revealing no concerns about what she chalked up as one bad weekend.

Instead, she complained about the course conditions at the only U.S. stop on the women’s circuit. Vonn skidded off-course less than halfway down the hill in the first run of a slalom Sunday, 24 hours after she failed to qualify for the second run of a giant slalom.

“It’s just a little bit too icy for the girls. I don’t think it does anyone a service to have it this difficult. It doesn’t look good on TV,” said Vonn, who lives in nearby Vail.

“It’s essentially like pond ice,” she added. “It’s like ice skating, and it becomes – it’s not ski racing anymore.”

Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic won the Aspen slalom for the second consecutive year, while Vonn and all six of her American teammates were out of contention. The U.S. Ski Team said it was the first time since Jan. 27, 2008, at Ofterschwang, Germany, that American women entered a World Cup slalom and none reached the second round.

Not exactly a performance that will inspire confidence moving forward, particularly with the Vancouver Olympics less than three months away.

Asked to assess Sunday’s showing, U.S. Ski Team women’s coach Jim Tracy called it “embarrassing.” And then he repeated that word for emphasis.

“No excuses,” Tracy said. “We just didn’t ski the way we were supposed to ski, simple as that.”

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