LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — Julia Mancuso heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” played for her after an international ski race for the first time in four years.
Mancuso ended her long wait by blazing down a steep and twisting Swiss course Wednesday to win the final World Cup downhill of the season.
“Emotionally, it’s awesome and it’s a lot of fun,” Mancuso, of Squaw Valley, Calif., told The Associated Press.
The national anthem was last dedicated to Mancuso in March 2007 after a World Cup downhill in Tarvisio, Italy. Since then, she has often looked up at Lindsey Vonn standing on the podium top step, including after last year’s Olympics downhill.
“I hear the anthem a lot because Lindsey wins all the time,” Mancuso joked. “It takes a minute to be like, ‘Oh, this is for me!’ So that’s cool.”
The 27-year-old Mancuso has regained the speed and style that flagged her for Alpine stardom before Vonn shot past to claim three straight World Cup overall titles.
A five-time junior world champion, Mancuso built upon her 2006 Olympic gold medal in giant slalom with four World Cup victories the next season.
Four years ago, she arrived at Lenzerheide challenging for the overall title but finished third behind Austria’s Nicole Hosp.
Vonn’s dominant era followed, as Mancuso’s health and focus slipped until her stunning Olympics comeback to claim two silver medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Mancuso delivered consistent results in speed events this season and a worlds silver in super-G last month.
“I’ll feel like I’ve nailed it, and then I’ll get to the finish and I’ve been second and third and fourth a lot,” she said. “I really knew today was my last chance.”
Mancuso was rewarded for aggressive skiing in fading light and soft snow.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for all year, for things to come together. It was difficult, and I could take those chances because not everyone would be,” she said.
Vonn was satisfied with her fourth place to take the overall World Cup lead from Germany’s Maria Riesch, whose tentative run left her 17th.
Mancuso was more than a second faster than all but runner-up Lara Gut of Switzerland, who trailed by 0.81 seconds. U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser predicted Mancuso’s victory on such an intimidating course.
“We had a talk this morning. I knew already that she was going to win that race and it was cool to see,” Hoedlmoser said. “She’s been really fantastic the whole year. Very, very focused, driven, motivated, happy — just a good person to have around.”
Hoedlmoser believes Mancuso’s boyfriend, Aksel Lund Svindal, the Norwegian racer who placed third in the men’s downhill Wednesday, helped provide balance.
“She’s happy in her relationship, she’s happy with the team setup we have. This is just the crown of it with the win at the end,” he said.
Mancuso’s also trying to help out those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
On Tuesday, she launched a campaign encouraging all racers to donate part of their final week of prize money to Japanese skier Akira Sasaki’s efforts to help the Tohoku region, which hosted the 1993 world championships.
Mancuso pledged half of her winner’s purse or $18,200.