Even with an RV, Mancuso finds life isn't always EZ
Posted: Saturday February 11, 2006 5:11PM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 2:33AM
Julia Mancuso acknowledged that the RV problem left her "pretty upset."
TURIN, Italy -- Sometimes the most difficult part of winning an Olympic medal is navigating the inconveniences that accompany the Games to arrive at the starting line whole.
Take the case of U.S. women's alpine skier Julia Mancuso, 21, a medal threat in three events in the mountains north of Turin, and a proven big-race skier who won two medals last winter at the World Alpine Championships. Upon her arrival in the mountain village of Sestriere this week, Mancuso struggled with the U.S. Ski Team and the United States Olympic Committee over a housing situation that is part misunderstanding, part stubbornness and all distraction. "It was a nightmare for three days,'' says Mancuso, who is no emotional wimp. "I was pretty upset.''
The situation is better now. But it's yet another chapter in a very long story detailing the many ways in which the Olympic Games can test an athlete far beyond the playing field.
Background: Mancuso, who begins Olympic competition Wednesday in the downhill, has been traveling the World Cup circuit this winter with her older sister, April, in a 27-foot recreational vehicle. Bode Miller has been going RV for three seasons and Daron Rahlves has been living out of a massive tour bus for two World Cup campaigns. Mancuso is the first woman on the U.S. team to make the leap.
Last Wednesday evening, Mancuso and April arrived in Sestriere and parked her RV behind the Miramonte Hotel, next to Miller's and Rahlves' rides, and just up a small hillside from the Olympic athletes' village. (The RVs look like the Three Bears: Rahlves' hulking tour bus is the father, Miller's 30-footer the mother and Mancuso's the baby). This is when things got sticky.
With a little help from Miller's driver/cook/Franconia homeboy Jake Serino, the Mancuso sisters hooked into the hotel's electricity through Miller's RV. Minutes later the hotel experienced a series of power blackouts. According to Serino, U.S. Ski Team alpine director Jesse Hunt came to the parking lot and told him to disconnect Mancuso's RV from the power. "Jesse told me to do it right away because they were blacking out the hotel and nobody was very happy about that,'' says Serino.
This story has its roots last summer, when, according to USOC chief of sport performance Steve Roush (who handles much of the Olympic logistics for sport bodies like the U.S. Ski Team), Miller and Rahlves requested to park their RVs on-site at the Olympic Games. "We started working with the hotel to make sure they had sufficient space and power for two RVs,'' Roush told si.com. "Julia's request came in mid-January and the first thing I did was call the hotel and their electrician said three RVs would be iffy.
"Working with the U.S. Ski Team,'' said Roush. "We said she can do it. She can park in back of the hotel near Bode and Daron. But she can't use the hotel's power. She has to use a generator.''
Mancuso was aware the USOC's response. "The ski team told me I'd have a parking spot, but no power,'' says Mancuso. "But they never mentioned that Bode and Daron would have power. I thought we would all be in the same parking lot with no power.
"I think they tried to discourage me from bringing my RV by telling me I wouldn't have power,'' says Mancuso, whose first race in Wednesday's downhill. "I know that was the original deal and they're sticking to that, but it seems really unfair. I thought once we got here, they would be willing to help us.''
There were more problems not involving the USOC or the U.S. Ski Team. Mancuso's RV arrived with empty propane tanks. They had to be filled in order to heat the RV without electricity. And apparently the blackouts were caused at least in part by some sort or faulty circuitry in Julia's RV. They are trying to get it repaired.
In the days since Mancuso first arrived and voiced her displeasure, USOC and ski team officials have begun offering to help her situation, short of allowing her to hook up to the hotel's power grid. "Once people knew there was a problem and that I was really upset, lots of people began offering to help,'' says Mancuso. "The USOC and the ski team and the hotel. Bode and Daron were willing to help all along.''
Hunt met with her for 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon and afterward told me, "I really think she's loving having her RV outside and having some privacy.''
The USOC bought Mancuso a gas-powered generator that's a bit noisy, but as neighbor Serino says, "They're pretty much running it only during the day.''
(There's a larger issue at work that men's head coach Phil McNichol discussed with me last November. Where and when does the U.S. Ski Team begin setting limits on athletes conducting semi-independent programs? Will the team someday be 20 racers, 20 RVs? These are questions that will be addressed in the offseason.)
Emotions have cooled. Mancuso was to begin downhill training on Sunday morning in nearby San Sicario. After a season in which she struggled with missing boots (leading to hip and knee problems), Mancuso nailed down two podiums in late January in Cortina, Italy. She is a gifted skier and world class competitor, with a chance to win medals here. If the bottom line on Olympic success is the medal count, it's best that she is free of issues that would stunt her chances.