United States Wins Gold in Women's Giant Slalom

Julia Mancuso holds an American flag after winning a gold medal i i

Julia Mancuso of the United States holds an American flag in the finish area after winning the Olympic gold medal in the women's Alpine skiing giant slalom race Feb. 24, 2006. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters
Julia Mancuso holds an American flag after winning a gold medal

Julia Mancuso of the United States holds an American flag in the finish area after winning the Olympic gold medal in the women's Alpine skiing giant slalom race Feb. 24, 2006.

Reuters

Julia Mancuso delivers a gold medal for the United States in the super giant slalom on the last day of skiing competition at the Winter Olympics in Turin. American speed skater Chad Hedrick takes the silver in the 10,000 meter race, and the United States wins its first medal in curling.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. The Winter Olympics are headed into their final few days, and the U.S. team is picking up momentum. Here are some of today's results.

American speed skater Chad Hedrick won his third medal of the games. He took the silver in the grueling 10,000 meter race. The United States won its first ever medal in curling, a bronze for the men's team. And in miserable weather in the Alps, Julia Mancuso skied through thick fog on her way to a gold medal in the women's giant slalom.

NPR's Chris Arnold was at that race in Sestriere.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

It's been a rough Olympics for the U.S. ski team. The top women skier, Lindsey Kildow, injured herself in a crash during practice early on. Bode Miller and the other top men skiers haven't been winning, and the weather today did not seem like a good omen.

The women raced in a snowstorm up here in the Alps, visibility was bad, racers were skiing out of the course. But as she stood up in the start house before her final run of the race, Julia Mancuso wrapped this foggy, snowy day around her like a blanket, and liked the fact that she couldn't see the crowds cheering below.

Ms. JULIA MANCUSO (United States gold medalist, giant slalom): Well I think because it was bad weather it made it seem less like the Olympics, because you always dream of the Olympics as the most perfect race. And it was sort of just another day on a stormy racecourse, and that sort of helped me take the pressure. It wasn't about the Olympics, and going into the second run I just had to remember it was about skiing once I kicked out of the start gate to just try and go my fastest.

ARNOLD: And she did go fast. Mancuso skis well in stormy weather, she's from Lake Tahoe in California and said the powder over the icy course was just like skiing at Squaw Valley. Still, she couldn't see her boots and she said she was freaking out because the course was very tough with tight turns and steep sections at the top.

Mancuso was the last of the medal contenders to ski, and as she raced, the crowd reacted as her split time showed her further and further ahead of the leader. She crossed the finish line in first place by what in skiing is a wide margin, about seven-tenths of a second, winning the gold.

Mancuso's mom, Andrea Mancuso, was wading through the crowd, trying to reach her and give her a hug.

Ms. ANDREA MANCUSO (Mother of Julia Mancuso): I want to tell her that I love her. I think she's fantastic and I'm so proud of her. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, I've got to see her.

ARNOLD: The 21-year-old Mancuso took third place last year in a World Cup giant slalom, but this gold medal is her first big win at any major international competition.

After the race, Mancuso was asked what she did the night before to prepare for the biggest race of her life.

Ms. MANCUSO: Well, um, you might laugh, because last night I was really into figure skating. I went into the village and I was hanging out, ate my Pop Tarts, and watched figure skating and got really fired up and went to bed a little bit too late, but I just woke up this morning and sort of cleared the path and just wanted to go out and have my best day.

ARNOLD: Team officials hope the gold medal will give some momentum to the men on the U.S. ski team as well. They race tomorrow in the slalom. Ted Ligety is a favorite, and Bode Miller has one more chance to get on the podium.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Sestriere.

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