By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Serial title contenders Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Julia Mancuso had a bad day at the office on Wednesday, with both surprisingly out of the medals in the Olympic women's downhill.
Germany's Hoefl-Riesch, who bagged a gold in Monday's opening super-combined race, was off the pace in 13th place while American Mancuso, runner-up in Vancouver, was eighth.
Hoefl-Riesch needs one more Olympic victory to equal the four golds won by Croatia's Janica Kostelic but will have to find extra reserves of energy before Saturday's super-G.
The German had been complaining of tiredness after a hectic schedule so far in Rosa Khutor.
Both skiers had been among the pre-race favourites in the absence of America's Lindsey Vonn and world champion Marion Rolland of France.
"Of course today was a big disappointment," World Cup leader Hoefl-Riesch told reporters.
"I may not have been a top favourite after not doing so well in training but still my goal was to win a medal in the downhill. I tried everything but it didn't work out.
"It was just not good skiing. The parts that caused me so much trouble in training were better but I made too many mistakes and I didn't have a good line. It was not enough.
"I've been on the skis every day and having a tough programme. Monday cost me lots of power."
Neither Hoefl-Riesch nor Mancuso blamed the course conditions despite the Spring-like temperatures at Rosa Khutor.
"At the top it was a little soft but not a problem and also at the finish hill, but in the middle it was perfect," Hoefl-Riesch, who has three World Cup downhill wins this season, said.
Mancuso claimed a fourth Olympic medal when a lightning fast downhill run helped her to super-combined bronze on Monday but she failed to replicate that speed on Wednesday, admitting an early jump had unsettled her.
"I caught too much air on the first jump and it caught me by surprise and it made me a little nervous for the rest of the run," Mancuso, who was almost a second slower than joint winners Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin, told reporters.
"The course was harder and faster than the other day. I'm definitely disappointed because I felt I had a really good chance but it's what happens in ski racing.
"I wish the women's downhill was the first race rather than the combined. There were moments on Monday when I was thinking, 'I wish this was the downhill race.'"
Both will be strong contenders for Saturday's super-G, although 29-year-old Hoefl-Riesch said that might be her last chance to equal Kostelic's Olympic record.
"I was good in super-G this season, twice on the podium in Cortina, but GS I've had no podiums this season so I'm not a favourite. And slalom, it's tough, most of the technical skiers are still at home having rest days and time for training." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)