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Mancuso makes U.S. Olympic history with 3rd skiing medal; Vonn catches gate

WHISTLER, British Columbia — In the rush to anoint Lindsey Vonn the greatest American woman skier in Olympic history, most media and fans forgot about the skier whose been wearing the crown for years.

Julia Mancuso, who skis with a tiara painted on some of her helmets and wears a tiara after races, skied into the U.S. record books Thursday afternoon by winning a silver medal in the super combined.

Often overlooked since winning gold at the 2006 Games because of injuries and poor performances, Mancuso is now the only American woman to win three Olympic skiing medals.

When she finished her slalom run and saw she'd locked up a medal she fell to the ground. She kicked her feet in the air, celebrating the moment.

"That was pure joy," Mancuso said. "I was so stoked. Skiing a good downhill and having to follow it up with a good run of slalom, I mean, that's tough. I didn't think I could do it. ... That's a moment I won't ever forget."

She shared the podium with two of the world's best skiers, but unlike Wednesday's downhill when Vonn was beside her on the top step, Vonn, the world's top-ranked super combined racer, was watching from the sideline.

Vonn easily won the downhill portion of the race and was less than 100 yards from another gold medal when she hooked the tip of her right ski on a gate. She ejected from her ski and fell to the snow.

Germany's Maria Riesch, the top slalom skier on the World Cup circuit, won gold. Anja Paerson of Sweden took bronze and claimed a place in Olympic lore.

Paerson was on pace to win silver in Wednesday's downhill when she took a violent tumble off the final jump and slid into the finish area.

She said she was in pain and "pretty scared" in the super combined and later compared herself to Austrian ski legend Herman Maier who recovered from a nasty fall in '98 to win gold.

Her lower body covered in bruises, Paerson made history with her sixth career medal. She ties the record of Croatia's Janica Kostelic set over the 2002 and '06 games.

"In a word, amazing," U.S. coach Jim Tracy said of Paerson. "That was a fall that probably would have taken 98 percent of the field out."

It's a similar mental toughness than Tracy sees in Mancuso.

"She embraces these big events," Tracy said. "... She really does a good job of focusing on exactly what she needs to do. On the outside she looks like she's a little bit carefree, but on the inside she knows exactly what she needs to do and when to do it.

After six women crashed on the bumpy course during Wednesday's downhill, the course was altered Thursday and it proved more forgiving. The start was lowered, a customary move for the super combined downhill, and the final jump was shaved down so skiers didn't catch as much air.

Only three racers fell Thursday, but Mancuso said the course was still "really bouncy."

U.S. skier Kaylin Richardson, who specializes in the technical events, said she was happy with the changes.

"For the girls that rallied after the big crashes yesterday I think it eased their minds a little bit," Richardson said.After her slalom run, Richardson radioed up a report on the course to Mancuso and Vonn.

Her advice: "Just go for it."

Both did, even though, for Vonn, it wasn't necessary.

All Vonn had to do was stay on her feet to win a medal.

"I wanted to win," Vonn said. "... I won gold yesterday, so I didn't really want to shoot for something lower than that."Vonn spends most of her time training for the speed events, Tracy said. While she is still among the best in the world in the technical events, the slalom has proven especially frustrating for her over the past month.

It was during slalom training where she injured her shin, forcing her to ski in pain. But Vonn wasn't making excuses after her fall.

"The shin wasn't the reason I didn't finish the race today," Vonn said. "It was just because I hooked a tip and that happens in ski racing all the time. I just wish it wasn't at the Olympic Games."

The women have today off but return to the slopes Friday for the super-G, another event Vonn will be heavily favored to win. Vonn has already clinched the World Cup super-G title this season. She also won the World Cup season title and the world championship in the super-G last season.

But as Mancuso has proven this week, she shouldn't be taken lightly.

"I really think I can put a couple of good runs together," she said. "Whether or not that's good enough for a medal, we'll have to wait and see."

Suddenly the talk about winning four medals has shifted from Vonn to Mancuso. She's already proven to be fast in the speed events and she's the reigning Olympic champ in the giant slalom.

"Anything is possible," Mancuso said, "as you saw today."

U.S. SKIERS WITH MULTIPLE MEDALS

SKIER - HOMETOWN - OLYMPICS - MEDALS

Julia Mancuso - Olympic Valley, Calif. - 2006, 2010 - Gold, 2 silvers

Bode Miller - Easton, N.H. - 2002, 2010 - 2 silvers, bronze

Phil Mahre - Yakima, Wash. - 1980, 1984 - Gold, silver

Picabo Street - Triumph, Idaho - 1994, 1998 - Gold, silver

Gretchen Kunigk Fraser - Tacoma, Wash. - 1948 - Gold, silver

Andrea Mead Lawrence - Rutland, Vt. - 1952 - 2 gold

Jean Saubert - Roseburg, Ore. - 1962 - Silver, bronze

Penny Pitou - Center Harbor, N.H. - 1960 - 2 silvers

Diann Roffe - Warsaw, N.Y. - 1992, 94 - Gold, silver

Hill reports for The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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