While the fun-loving Julia Mancuso, 29, may not have the name recognition of fellow skier Lindsey Vonn, she does have something better — more Olympic medals. In fact, Mancuso has amassed more than any other American female alpine skier ever — one gold from Turin, Italy, in 2006; and two silver from Vancouver in 2010.
The Squaw Valley, Calif., resident heads into the Sochi Olympics looking to add more hardware to her haul, as she hopes to take on four events: the downhill, super-G, super-combined and giant slalom.
At this stage in Mancuso’s 15-year career, skiing comes as naturally to her as walking. She first slid around on skis as a two-year-old, and shortly thereafter entered the sport to emulate her sister April, who’s four years her senior. “That helped me to get to the next level,” says Mancuso. “I wasn’t looking at girls around me who were my age. I was looking up at her. She was the target.” Mancuso finally beat her sister at 13 years old, turned pro at 15 and was off to world-class races.
In an age when many professional athletes conceal their personalities off the field, Mancuso refreshingly shows hers, whether she’s posting a Facebook photo of herself skiing off of a sand dune in a bikini, or stating on her Twitter page that she “skis better than you.”
Heading into Sochi, she leads a high-profile U.S. women’s ski team that won’t include Vonn, who’s out nursing a knee injury. The void, however, leaves the unpredictable Mancuso, who’s been known to wear a toy tiara on the medal stand, with the opportunity to take center stage in the world’s biggest winter sporting event.
Where do you keep your Olympic medals?
My mom keeps my medals and has them on display in her living room. She is more responsible than me, so I know I’ll never lose them if she has them in her possession.
Besides skis, what is the one thing you always travel with?
My ukulele. I’ve been playing for about a year. Some of my teammates play the guitar, so if I wanted to join the band, I had to bring an instrument to have a jam session.
What does a normal day of practice look like for you during the season?
I ski three to four hours and then spend two to three hours in the gym.
During the offseason, you live in Maui and spend a lot of time cross-training in the ocean. What’s your workout go-to?
Stand up paddling has a direct correlation to skiing because you are in a similar position to skiing and trying to keep your lower body stable while moving your upper body.
Describe what it feels like to fly down a mountain at 50 mph on what are essentially toothpicks.
When I’m having a fast run, it feels both like I’m out of control and have enough time between gates to think about being in the right body position. I’m never behind the gates, always in front of them, and there is a bit of that false reality where the next gate looks so far away.
What does it feel like to crash?
Time slows down a little. The first thing I think about is guessing what the consequences will be and hope that once I stop everything will be okay.
Tell us something about your life off the slopes that people would be surprised to know about you.
I recently took a free diving course and found out that I can hold my breath for three-and-a-half minutes. And that was without training. It taught me that we have so much potential we have yet to discover.
If and when you stand atop the podium in Sochi, will you don your tiara?
Always. I think it’s a really fun thing. Wearing a tiara is a big part of my Olympic podium and I hope to get the chance to wear it again.
What motivated you to start your lingerie line, Kiss My Tiara?
Back when I was 18, I would always get the same question from reporters: ‘Wow, you really surprised us today. How did you do so well?’ I work really hard and was skiing really well, so I didn’t really see why it was a surprise that I won. I started answering with silly replies. I decided I was going to wear these underwear — they said Super Julius on them and I changed them to Super Jules — and I wore them in a race so I could say that I had won because I was wearing my Super Jules underwear. That’s how it started.
Where does the name come from?
A few years later, I got some flak from (former skier) Picabo Street for wearing the tiara, so I combined the two things and came up with Kiss My Tiara. I don’t get asked any ‘surprise’ questions anymore.
What are your goals for Sochi?
My goal for these Olympics is to get another medal and win gold. I feel like I have a good chance in every event that I enter, and if I can actually win a medal, that will be success, but my ultimate goal is to win gold.
—By Matt McCue