Julia Mancuso retires, joins NBC Olympics for PyeongChang

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Julia Mancuso, the most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals, ended her bid for a record fifth Olympics and is retiring after a victory lap in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Friday.

Mancuso, 33, could not fully come back from right hip surgery that kept her out the previous two full seasons.

She raced three times this season without cracking the top 40.

Mancuso would have had one last chance to prove she deserved a PyeongChang Olympic place at a World Cup stop in Cortina this weekend.

Instead, she’s calling it a career now.

She will still go to PyeongChang, as a reporter for NBC Olympics and for “The Olympic Zone,” the nightly 30-minute show that airs on NBC affiliates.

“It has been an epic battle with my hip injury, and the past three years I have put everything into returning to competition at the highest level and the goal to reach my fifth Olympic Games,” Mancuso said in a U.S. Ski & Snowboard press release. “There have been really promising days during this challenging process, and I have kept my spirits up despite many who questioned or doubted me. Sadly, I haven’t found the progression to compete with the best in the world again, but I’m proud to have fought until the very end. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to ski racing, but I do so with a full heart.”

Mancuso made her name as a big-event racer.

She reached 36 podiums in 398 World Cup starts (nine percent) but earned nine medals in 40 Olympic and world championships starts (23 percent).

“I don’t think that I was ever looked at as the favorite,” Mancuso said.

No upset win was bigger than the 2006 Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy.

Mancuso battled driving snow and poor visibility to take gold, having never before won a World Cup or world championships race (but with five world junior titles and two 2005 World bronze medals). She stayed up late the previous night watching women’s figure skating on TV while eating Pop Tarts.

At the medal ceremony, the free spirit donned a plastic tiara, a gift presented by coaches at a team dinner. She also wore the tiara in place of a helmet for a slalom run in the combined event.

“Oh my God, I just won the Olympics,” Mancuso told teammate Stacey Cook immediately after winning, reportedly adding to media an hour later as Olympic champion, “You can’t imagine how weird it is to say that out loud.”

Mancuso had some lean seasons on the World Cup in the next two Olympic cycles, yet surprised for downhill and super combined silver medals in 2010 and another super combined bronze in 2014.

Mancuso, along with Lindsey VonnBode Miller and Ted Ligety, was part of a golden generation of U.S. Alpine skiing. At least one of the four won a medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2002.

Now Miller and Mancuso have retired, and Vonn and Ligety are likely going to their last Olympics in PyeongChang.

Vonn, who skied with Mancuso since they were 9 years old, was in tears saying goodbye to her longtime (and not always friendly) rival.

“She’s not there anymore,” said Vonn, who finished second in Friday’s race. “It makes me realize how long we’ve been doing this, and how many great memories we have together. I honestly think that we’re both in the position that we’re in because we were growing up together, because we pushed each other. We weren’t always the best of friends. We’re very different. We’re exact opposites. She’s like free, let’s go surfing. I’m like hardcore, always focused all the time. We haven’t always been very close, but because of each other, because we were on the team together, because we pushed each other, we both achieved a level of success that I don’t think we would have had without each other. I have a lot of my career to thank for Julia. I am very sad to see her go.”

Mancuso bid this year to join cross-country skier Kikkan Randall and (very likely) snowboarder Kelly Clark as the first U.S. woman to compete in five Winter Olympics.

Mancuso also would have been the second-oldest U.S. Olympic Alpine skier ever after Miller, the only American skier with more Olympic medals than Mancuso’s four.

Hip problems resulting from a birth condition kept that from happening.

Mancuso has hip dysplasia, a misalignment of bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal.

When Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor said she needed to choose between ski racing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17 in 2002) or living a healthy life.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso underwent surgery after that 2006 Olympic title. The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. She hoped to return to racing last season but was limited to being a forerunner.

Again, this season, she delayed her comeback and never was able to race at the level she wanted.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said in April. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Today will be my last race. I have lots of fun photos, and I'm sure there will plenty more today (watch the race!) bib 31 🙂 but I think this one says it all. I stood proud and tall in this years Olympic Uniform. I believed anything would be possible, and this journey shooting for the moon, left me with many bright stars. 💫 so here you go! It has been an epic battle with my hip injury, and the past 3 years I have put everything into returning to competition at the highest level and the goal to reach my 5th olympics. There have been really promising days during this challenging process and I have kept my spirits up despite many who questioned and doubted me. Sadly I haven’t found the progression to compete with the best in world again but I’m proud to have fought until the very end. It is with a heavy heart I have to say goodbye to ski racing, but I do so also with a very Full heart. I'm so grateful for all of the incredible opportunities I've been provided and the amazing friendships I've formed along the way. Thank you to my family, sponsors and my team for believing in me, my doctors, fans and especially my husband who has supported me through these difficult times. I'm happy that I get to ski my last race here in Cortina – one of my favorite stops on tour. I had my first podium here, and now I get to say farewell. I’m excited to see where skiing and life’s adventure will take me next! Thank you @spyderactive @pocsports @stockli_1935 @kttape @gopro @squawalpine @swix_sport @lesserevilsnacks @hiballenergy @usskiteam @lange_boots

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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