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Vonn 'bummed out' by rival Mancuso's 'popularity contest' claim

Fourth-Place Medal

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The frosty relationship between American skiing stars Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso may have grown a little more contentious Wednesday. Mancuso was flagged off the course during the women's giant slalom because she started while Vonn was trying to untangle herself from the netting after crashing in the previous run.

This came after Mancuso took a shot at Vonn in a Sports Illustrated report that claimed the U.S. ski team was being hurt by "a popularity contest."

"People are having a hard time reaching their potential because it's such a struggle for attention," Mancuso told Sports Illustrated. "You come to meetings after races and it's like it's a bad day if Lindsey didn't do well."

Vonn, who told Reuters she was "bummed out" by Mancuso's statements, reiterated her support for her teammate.

The tensions boiled over Wednesday after Mancuso left while Vonn was still on the course following her crash. She left at the correct one-minute start interval, but was flagged because Vonn had yet to clear and the racing conditions were unsafe. Mancuso was taken to the top of the mountain after her aborted run and had to wait for 13 more skiers before she could make her first official slalom. By then, conditions had deteriorated on the mountain, with snow and fog making the course much more treacherous. Mancuso ended up in 18th place before Wednesday afternoon's second run.

Vonn had taken a turn too fast during her run, crashing on her left hip and tumbling into the safety netting. She broke her finger in the accident. Mancuso didn't know this and started before Vonn had extricated herself. The two-time Vancouver medalist was seen crying after the run and later Tweeted:

"i was flagged in gs, that is [expletive]! well now its time to use that anger and fight scond run!!"

(That message has since been taken down. The IOC could levy a fine for criticism of race officials.)

Mancuso has not blamed Vonn for the issue, nor should she. It's not like Lindsey meant to fall, and it's certainly not Vonn's fault that she couldn't get herself out of the netting in time. But this incident adds another layer to a complicated relationship between the rivals.

Some NBC viewers thought they saw iciness when the two were interviewed after finishing first and second in the downhill last week. Neither Vonn nor Mancuso praised each other during the chat, and Vonn looked perturbed when the reporter shifted focus from her to her teammate. And Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson noticed that the two barely spoke when they received their downhill medals.

A recent New York Times article describes the pair as friends, but there's plenty of "read between the lines" stuff in the piece that suggests otherwise:

• Vonn and Mancusco are described as the "yin and yang" of U.S. skiing.

• Mancuso says, "We used to be good friends, but now we don't hang out as much."

• When talking about Mancuso, Vonn is said to focus on their early days in junior skiing.

• A former friend compared the relationship to that of Maverick and Iceman from the movie "Top Gun." It's been awhile since I saw that one, but I'm pretty sure the characters of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer didn't get along until the final scene. (Although maybe the friend is referring to occasions when Vonn sang "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Mancuso did this.)

It's a complicated dynamic between the old friends and current rivals. It only got more complicated Wednesday.

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