KRASNAYA POLYANA — Julia Mancuso again lived up to her reputation as a big-event racer Monday and added to her illustrious career at major ski championships.
Mancuso, 29, won her fourth Olympic medal by taking the bronze in the women's super-combined in spring-like conditions that she is accustomed to back home at Squaw Valley, Calif., the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
No other American female skier — not Lindsey Vonn (who is not competing here because of recent knee surgery), not former great Picabo Street — has more than two Olympic medals.
Vonn is second on the all-time World Cup women's victories list with 59, to Mancuso's seven. But the Olympics have become Mancuso's place to shine.
Only four women skiers in history have more Olympic medals than Mancuso's four — Croatia's Janica Kostelic and Sweden's Anja Paerson with six, and Switzerland's Vreni Schneider and Germany's Katja Seizinger with five.
She joins speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Apolo Ohno as the only American Winter Olympians to win individual medals at three Games.
"It's pretty cool," Mancuso said of her place in Olympic history. "Skiing and growing up with Lindsey, who's just amazing on the World Cup and breaking records left and right there, to have something that I can break records in at the same time is fun and exciting for me. It's a totally different thing, but these are great accomplishments that I'm really proud of. I feel like in our own ways, we have such strengths, and it's cool to be a part of that."
The super-combined consists of a morning downhill run and, four hours later, an afternoon slalom run. Mancuso, who won the silver medal in this event in Vancouver four years ago, dominated the morning downhill, winning by almost half a second. But she was considered in jeopardy of failing to finish with a medal because she rarely trains slalom, a tricky discipline that takes precise movements. In fact, Mancuso hadn't raced in a slalom all season.
She struggled on the top part of the difficult, steep slalom course, which nine women failed to finish, but she charged at the bottom just hard enough to hang on to third place, behind gold medalist Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and silver medalist Nicole Hosp of Austria.
"To be honest, I thought I was blowing it in slalom," Mancuso said. "But I knew to just fight to the finish, because you have no idea. I'm sure it was one of those courses where everyone didn't feel great. Crossing the finish line, just seeing my name in the top three, it didn't even matter that I could have been better. All that mattered was crossing the finish line with a solid run.
"Of course, getting another medal is really a dream come true."
Not only was Mancuso skiing in weather conditions she likes, and on the softer snow warm weather produces, but also in front of a large contingent of family members.
She tweeted between runs that she was thinking of her late grandfather, who was a huge fan of her ski racing career until he died about a year ago.
She tweeted: "My grandpa is smiling down at me from heaven and saying I can be proud no matter what happens! This one's for you Grandpa Denny :)"
The result, particularly her superlative showing in the downhill, stamps her as one of the favorites for Wednesday's women's downhill.
"I know I can really be fast in the downhill," she said. "I know how to be fast."
"Amazing," U.S. women's coach Alex Hoedlmoser said of Mancuso's downhill run.
Of her hanging on and getting through the slalom gates, he said, "It was a very strong performance in her mind. She set the tone and just decided to do it. She's a true champion and that's why she can do these things. She gets so excited at the Olympics."
Said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt: "She's a game-changer. I mean, she's a gamer."
Mancuso's scorching downhill time of 1 minute, 42.68 seconds put her 0.86 seconds ahead of Slovenian Tina Maze and 1.04 seconds ahead of Hoefl-Riesch, two of the big favorites in this event.
She was the last of the contenders to leave the start hut in the slalom, with the scoreboard showing Hoefl-Riesch first, Hosp second and Maze third.
Mancuso's slalom time of 52.47 was the 13th-fastest, but her overall combined time of 2 minutes, 35.15 seconds knocked Maze into fourth place by just 0.10 seconds.
Hoefl-Riesch, the German superstar and close friend of Vonn who conceivably could win five medals here, won with a time of 2:34.62. Hosp was 0.40 seconds back, and Mancuso was 0.13 seconds behind Hosp.
It was the third career Olympic alpine skiing gold for Hoefl-Riesch. Only Kostelic has more with four.
Since the 2010 Olympics, Mancuso has failed to finish 10 of 14 World Cup slalom events, with a top finish of 20th. And, during that time, she has not finished on the podium in eight World Cup super-combined events.
But once again, a major stage revealed a major talent.
"I thought this event was a longshot for me," she said. "I have less than 10 days of slalom training this year. Sometimes that's better. Just go for it. I grew up skiing slalom so I knew I can do it. So that's pretty much what I did, just believe it was still there."
Mancuso, as she did in Torino in 2006 in winning a snowy giant slalom and again in Vancouver in 2010 when she won two silver medals, used the energy of a major event to fuel her competitive drive.
"I just know to never give up," she said. "That's a big part of it. The Olympics just causes me to bring that extra bit of intensity."
She has also lucked into good conditions for her in the last three Winter Olympics.
"For sure it helps that the last few Olympics have been places where it's warm," she said. "This is the kind of snow we get in California. In Torino, it was the snowstorms that we get (in northern California). Now, it's that California sun that I'm feeling when I'm up on the hill."
Mancuso had a horrible start to this season and didn't finish in the top 10 of a World Cup race until Jan. 23.
Now she's peaking again at the right time.
"The Olympics is my redemption," she said, "and the time when I can make my season better."