- Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2014

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) - Julia Mancuso is not afraid to say it: her entire season will be defined by the Sochi Olympics.

And for a skier who has always thrived at the games, that suits her just fine.

“I have three weeks now until the Olympics and I still have my goals set on Sochi,” Mancuso said in snowy Cortina, where an ongoing blizzard forced Friday’s World Cup downhill training to be canceled.

“So every race week now is just a building block to that and obviously the World Cup is not much of a focus for me anymore,” the Californian added. “It’s more training for the Olympics, because of how it started. But every race is a really great opportunity.”

Mancuso’s World Cup season has not been one to remember so far. Her best result was 12th in a giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last month. Her only other top-15 finish was 13th in a downhill in Altenmarkt, Austria, last weekend.

But Mancuso has been in this situation before. She was also in a slump entering the 2010 Vancouver Games - and came away with two silver medals.

And at the 2006 Turin Games, she won gold in giant slalom before ever winning a World Cup race.

Thus her Olympic record tops that of longtime teammate Lindsey Vonn, who is injured and will miss Sochi.

“The Olympics are just so special for me, because I just never knew about the World Cup when I was growing up,” said Mancuso, who is from Squaw Valley, California - site of the 1960 Winter Games.

“I only knew about the Olympics and I passed the Olympic rings every day on my way to school and I just grew up in a place where the Olympics really are a legacy and I always had that dream,” Mancuso added. “So I’ve just been thinking about that ever since I was a little kid. And now going into my fourth Olympics I’m just really grateful for all the good experiences I had.”

As a 17-year-old, Mancuso finished 13th in the combined at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games to open her Olympic career.

In March, Mancuso will turn 30.

“It’s always a big deal when you’re a kid and you didn’t really know that the World Cup was actually a tour and that you would be traveling around the world going from stop to stop,” Mancuso said, as she took in the view of the resort known as the “queen of the Italian Dolomites.”

“I guess I always dreamt of winning and skiing for my job but I never knew it would take me this far,” Mancuso added. “And here I am turning 30 this year. So it’s been a really long journey and it’s been a lot of fun and I’m just so thankful to go to all these amazing places. … It’s really just been an awesome ride.”

Still, Mancuso has not won a race since a parallel slalom in Moscow two years ago and she’s been constantly tinkering with her equipment to find a better feel.

Over a recent break back home, she decided to stop experimenting.

“I had to make a decision of what I was going to ski on and really just go from there and not be questioning anything anymore, because there’s no time for that,” Mancuso said. “What I have is the best thing that I’m going to be on right now and I’m just going to go for it.”


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