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US Downhillers Aim for Sochi Olympic Squad

by Andrew Dampf
Thursday Jan 23, 2014
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Julia Mancuso
Julia Mancuso  (Source:AP Photo/Armando Trovati)

Julia Mancuso is setting the pace. Stacey Cook is starting to get up to cruising speed. And Leanne Smith is trying to harness her velocity.

As for Laurenne Ross, well, she’s dropping the beat with her electronic music talents.

While Lindsey Vonn is at home recovering from surgery, the remaining members of the U.S. women’s speed team are cranking up their form during selection week for the Sochi Olympics.

Mancuso led World Cup downhill training Wednesday and finished seventh in Thursday’s super-G race for her best result this season.

"Things are going in the right direction and I know I have a lot more in me," Mancuso said. "Training has been going really well and racing is getting better, so I’m getting there just in time for the Olympics."

On a course set by U.S. speed coach Chip White, Stacey Cook finished ninth for her best result in a super-G in seven years.

"Super-G has been a really hard event for me for a really long time," Cook said. "I’ve been working really hard at it and I’m really psyched with my equipment and I think that has made a big difference."

Smith was also on pace for a top-10 finish until she skied out midway down the Olympia delle Tofane course.

"I’ve had (speed) all year. But when you’re going for it you have to be super-precise," Smith said. "It’s hard when you’re really charging to keep it together and not make little mistakes, and sometimes they can compound and get you."

Smith finished third in the Cortina downhill last year and will get a chance to follow up that result in downhills the next two days. Then there is another super-G on Sunday.

Two of this week’s races were originally scheduled for last weekend in Cortina but were wiped out due to heavy snowfall. The other two were moved from Garmisch-Partenkirchen due to a lack of snow in the German resort.

"I’m not going to stop attacking. I know that," Smith said. "And someday soon here it will hopefully fall into my favor."

Ross was also dealt some bad luck when she drew the No. 1 bib for the super-G, meaning that she had to go down full speed without any course reports from her coaches. And last week, Ross crashed in downhill training.

She finished 36th.

But Ross has been keeping upbeat with a music-writing program that she’s been tugging around the Alps this season. Already a master of the piano, violin, cello and guitar - and a solid singer, too - she describes this new device as a "beat pad."

"It’s like a mixing machine," Ross said. "I’m starting to try to make some electronic music. We dropped some beats. You know, pick things up a little bit."

Ross finished second in a downhill in Garmisch last season but has yet to crack the top-20 this campaign.

With the U.S. team currently allotted an Olympic quota of only 12 spots - for men and women - the pressure is on before the Sochi team is named on Sunday.

"It’s a little-bit nerve-wracking because of how few spots we have," Ross said. "It’s going to be tough for them to take all of us on discretion. So we’re all going to try to punch a couple in there so that we can secure that and have that settled."

A couple of younger U.S. skiers, 23-year-old Julia Ford and 21-year-old Jacqueline Wiles, are also attempting to establish themselves.

Ford finished 31st and Jacqueline Wiles was 34th Thursday, with both placing just outside the points.

Already the back-to-back U.S. downhill champion, Wiles is in her rookie season. She was 12th in downhill training Wednesday.

Still, the team has a long way to go to match last season, when every member of the downhill squad reached the podium.

"I know that great results are going to come again, because we have a lot of talent in our group," White said. "It’s unfortunate we don’t have Lindsey and Alice (McKennis, who is also injured). But we still have a very solid team without them and everybody is starting to step up."

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