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Sochi Olympics: Without Lindsey Vonn, downhill title up for grabs

SOCHI, Russia — The Lindsey Vonn-less Olympics have created a mad rush for Alpine medals she might have won.

The injured Vonn can't make her own history in Sochi, but her absence is helping to make history for her best friend and also her fiercest rival.

Up for grabs Wednesday in Rosa Khutor is the women's downhill title that Vonn can't defend.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

One of the favorites is Maria Hoefl-Riesch, one of Vonn's best friends on the World Cup circuit.

Hoefl-Riesch missed the 2006 Turin Games because of injuries, but the 29-year-old German has not wasted many opportunities in the two Olympics since Italy.

Her gold in Monday's super combined gave her three golds in the six Olympic events she has entered. She won the super combined and slalom events four years ago in Vancouver.

At this pace Hoefl-Riesch may shatter the Olympic Alpine record book.

The five-event star of the World Cup circuit, in fact, has finished in the top 10 in all six of her Olympic races.

Her three gold medals leave her one short of tying Janica Kostelic and Kjetil Andre Aamodt for most Alpine golds.

Hoelf-Riesch could easily match that Wednesday on her way to two or three more victories.

"I don't think of records so much," she said after winning Monday's super combined.

The German star is a medal threat in all five Olympic disciplines. The ability to win in disciplines as different as downhill and slalom mark the true measure of greatness.

"It's not easy and sometimes I don't race so well," Hoefl-Riesch said. "This is the challenge of being an all-around skier, to switch between the disciplines."

Vonn's absence has also increased the odds of teammate Julia Mancuso setting U.S. Olympic records that will be hard to top.

Mancuso's bronze in the super combined gives her four medals.

Mancuso thought she had Olympic downhill gold in Vancouver before Vonn all but ripped it off her neck with a dramatic victory.

Mancuso's four medals put her in elite Winter Olympic company among Americans.

She is the first U.S. Alpine skier to win a medal in three Olympics. The only other U.S. Winter Olympians in any sport to match that feat are speedskater Bonnie Blair and short-track speedskater Apolo Ohno.

Mancuso is also the only U.S. female Alpiner with a medal of every color: gold, silver and bronze.

The warm weather and soft snow conditions in Russia have perfectly suited Mancuso, who grew up skiing on spring mush in Squaw Valley.

Every four years, the Olympic weather seems to break her way.

Mancuso has only seven World Cup wins in her career and started this season struggling to produce results as she fiddled with her boots and bindings.

"It's been a real tough season for me, and I've always had that real belief that I can do it," Mancuso said. "It's like putting out these dreams and beliefs that I could win here and have a medal — and everyone being really skeptical — and knowing in my heart that I could do it."

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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