KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — One gold down for Maria Hoefl-Riesch, and more chances to come.
The German skier won her third Olympic gold medal in only her sixth Olympic race Monday, using her slalom skills to surge ahead of her rivals and take the super-combined title.
"It's unbelievable. Of course, I was the big favorite for today," said Hoefl-Riesch, who retained her Olympic title in an event designed to test the best all-around skier. "But I had some problems on the downhill course."
Those problems left her in fifth place in the morning downhill, putting her more than one second behind Julia Mancuso's inspired run. But the defending Olympic champion in slalom overcame the time difference in the afternoon and finished 0.40 seconds faster than silver medalist Nicole Hosp of Austria.
Mancuso, who rarely skis slalom, battled down to finish third, 0.53 behind Hoefl-Riesch's two-run winning time of 2 minutes, 34.62 seconds.
Mancuso punched the air with her right fist after seeing she had won her fourth career Olympic medal in Alpine skiing. No other American woman has won more than two.
"I really thought I was blowing it in slalom," Mancuso said. "I had a great downhill run and knew there was nothing to lose."
Hoefl-Riesch is now poised to make Alpine history at the Sochi Olympics. With her third career gold medal, she is only one behind all-time leaders Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway and Janica Kostelic of Croatia.
"I don't think about records so much," said the 29-year-old Hoefl-Riesch, who missed the 2006 Turin Olympics because of injury. "If it happens, it's great. I'm not looking on this."
Hoefl-Riesch can match the retired greats on Wednesday in the downhill, an event in which she has three World Cup wins this season. She is also the current overall leader on the circuit.
On Monday, Hoefl-Riesch stood in the snow at the finish area to watch as Mancuso slalomed through the gates in the second leg. When the American's time flashed up on the giant screen, Hoefl-Riesch let her skis fall to the ground and then turned to face fans in the grandstand, placing her hands on her head then kneeling on the snow.
Hoefl-Riesch's victory matched Kostelic's back-to-back Olympic combined titles in 2002 and 2006. The Croatian won the traditional version, which includes two slalom runs.
Mancuso's Olympic tally includes two medals in super-combined, a gold in giant slalom from the 2006 Turin Olympics and a silver in downhill from the 2010 Vancouver Games.
She raised her level on the biggest stage again in the first of five women's events despite having a best result of only seventh on this season's World Cup circuit.
"It just brings that extra bit on intensity," said Mancuso, who also has five career world championship medals.
The event, which tests racers' all-around ability to be fast and technically correct, proved challenging, especially on a steep slalom track lit by floodlights on a cloudy afternoon.
Four of the 10 fastest downhill racers failed to get down the slalom, including Lara Gut of Switzerland, who had been second behind Mancuso.
One pre-race favorite for a medal, Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada, crashed in the slalom and appeared to injure her left wrist.