Mancuso dedicates run to friend CR Johnson

February, 25, 2010

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- For an hour after the women's giant slalom finals Thursday morning, Julia Mancuso's family stood at the entrance to the media area here, anxiously awaiting the moment when they finally could celebrate with her.

"We haven't had a proper celebration yet," said Andrea Webber, Mancuso's mom. "This will be the first time we celebrate her two silver medals together."

When Julia arrived, nearly an hour after giving her first postrace interview, Mom placed the tiara she'd been wearing all morning on her daughter's head. Julia's sister April held out a stack of plastic cups. Julia reached into her bag and pulled out a bottle of Celebris champagne. Then, after hanging her two medals around her neck, Mancuso popped the cork, divvied up the champagne among her family and friends, and made a proper toast. "Here's to the Olympics!" Mancuso said, holding up her glass. "Cheers!"

Although Mancuso did not medal in giant slalom, she was the fastest woman down the mountain Thursday and finished eighth overall. And after Wednesday's unfortunate, and now infamous, yellow-flag incident, it was something else for Mancuso and her family to celebrate. Instead of thinking about what could have been, Mancuso was able to concentrate on what was and celebrate an impressive final performance at these Olympics. In that final run, she also was celebrating the memory of a friend.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mancuso learned of the death of her good friend CR Johnson, a well-known and popular freeskier who helped pioneer the sport of halfpipe skiing. Johnson, 26, was known for pushing limits, as well as for his inspiring recovery from a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a skiing accident in 2005. He died Wednesday after a fall while skiing at Squaw Valley, his home mountain. Johnson and Mancuso, who also is from Squaw Valley, Calif., had been friends for years. In 2002 in Salt Lake City, at her first Olympics, Johnson stood with Mancuso's family and cheered her on the day she took silver in the giant slalom. On Thursday, he was with her in spirit.

"Our little sister Sara found out first, and I knew Julia would find out, so I wanted to be the person to tell her," April said. "I called her and said, 'I have horrible news. You should probably sit down.' After I told her, she was in disbelief. Yesterday was a bad day for Julia.

"Everything seemed so unfair. She was upset about what happened in her first run and thinking about it a lot. But then after hearing her good friend had passed away, she realized you have to let it go. It put everything in perspective. Life is so fragile, and although this is upsetting, I mean, it's the Olympics. What happened is nothing compared to losing her friend."

At the finish of her second run, Mancuso told the media, "CR helped me realize how much I love skiing."

On Wednesday night during their call, Mancuso told her sister that she was dedicating her final run to her friend. On Thursday morning, she told the world in a post on her Twitter account.

"This last run is for CR Johnson. Gonna rip it for you!!! CR was in Salt Lake City at my first Olympics, cheering for me. I know you're here now and with everyone when they ski and push their limits. RIP."

Then she lined up at the start and made good on her word.

Alyssa Roenigk

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and whose assignments have taken her to six continents and caused her to commit countless acts of recklessness. (Follow @ESPN_Alyssa on Twitter).




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