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Vonn’s crash disrupts Mancuso’s title defense

In the very instant that Lindsey Vonn spun out of control during Wednesday’s Olympic giant slalom, breaking a finger and ending her latest medal bid, Julia Mancuso — Vonn’s teammate and lifelong rival, not to mention the defending champion — sped toward that same spot.

As Vonn lay in the snow off to the side of a course, tangled up in blue netting “like a pretzel,” an official waved a giant yellow flag through the driving flakes and dense fog to warn Mancuso that she needed to stop. Otherwise, Mancuso would risk slamming into Vonn or a course worker helping her.

“I was kind of thinking, like, ‘Is this really happening?’ It was hard to kind of wrap my head around it,” Mancuso said, “just because it’s something that I would not expect, ever.”

And so it was that a rare confluence of events — awful weather, shortened intervals between racers, Vonn’s crash immediately before Mancuso’s start-and-stop — conspired to bring these two together, presumably dashing the hopes each harbored for a third medal at these Winter Games and shining light on a simmering rift between a couple of 25-year-old Americans who have been trying to beat each other on skis since they were girls.

As it was, with Vonn starting 17th, and Mancuso 18th — slots based on their giant slalom results during the World Cup season — Mancuso began her run almost to the second as Vonn was crashing.

Race director Atle Skaardal said there wasn’t enough time to stop Mancuso from taking off.

After pausing to check on Vonn, a distracted, discouraged and, frankly, exhausted Mancuso made her way slowly down to the finish area, then got a lift on a snowmobile back to the top for a do-over. Even that was problematic: Mancuso was momentarily blocked from getting to the starting gate because she didn’t have her credential, which someone had taken down to the finish area after her initial, interrupted run. She had to argue her way in. Now further flustered, and the 31st skier on a course in worsening conditions, she wound up 18th-fastest in the run, 1.30 seconds behind leader Elisabeth Goergl of Austria.

SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING — The 3,000-meter relay team of Allison Baver, Alyson Dudek, Lana Gehring and Katherine Reutter was last across the finish in the four-team final, but got promoted to third when the apparent winners from South Korea were disqualified.

SPEEDSKATING — Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic captured her second gold medal in Vancouver, adding the 5,000 meters to the 3,000 title she’s already won.

Stephanie Beckert of Germany got silver, and defending Olympic champion Clara Hughes of Canada thrilled the crowd by taking bronze.

Jilleanne Rookard was the top American, finishing eighth.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING — Marcus Hellner was so far ahead at the end of his anchor leg that he had time to collect a Swedish flag to wave as he skied to the finish of the team relay, earning his second gold medal of these Olympics.

Norway got silver, and the Czech Republic took bronze.The Americans were 13th.