— By

The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.).

WHISTLER, British Columbia — In the rush to anoint Lindsey Vonn the greatest American woman skier in Olympic history, most media and fans forgot about the skier who’s been wearing the crown for years.

Julia Mancuso, who skis with a tiara painted on some of her helmets and wears a tiara after races, skied into the U.S. record books Thursday by winning a silver medal in the super combined.

Often overlooked since winning gold at the 2006 Games because of injuries and poor performances, Mancuso is the only American woman to win three Olympic skiing medals.

When she finished her slalom run and saw she had locked up a medal, she fell to the ground. She kicked her feet in the air, celebrating the moment.

”That was pure joy,” Mancuso said. ”I was so stoked. Skiing a good downhill and having to follow it up with a good run of slalom, I mean, that’s tough. I didn’t think I could do it. That’s a moment I won’t ever forget.”

She shared the podium with two of the world’s best skiers, but unlike Wednesday’s downhill when Vonn was beside her on the top step, Vonn, the world’s top-ranked super combined racer, was watching from the sideline.

Vonn easily won the downhill portion of the race and was less than 100 yards from another gold medal when she hooked the tip of her right ski on a gate. She ejected from her ski and fell.

Maria Riesch of Germany, the top slalom skier on the World Cup circuit, won gold. Anja Paerson of Sweden took bronze and has a place in Olympic lore.

Paerson was on pace to win silver in Wednesday’s downhill when she took a violent tumble off the final jump and slid into the finish area.

She said she was in pain and ”pretty scared” in the super combined, and compared herself to Herman Maier, an Austrian ski legend who recovered from a nasty fall in ’98 to win gold.

Her lower body covered in bruises, Paerson made history with her sixth career medal. She tied Janica Kostelic of Croatia, who set the record over the 2002 and ’06 games.

”In a word, amazing,” U.S. Coach Jim Tracy said of Paerson. ”That was a fall that probably would have taken 98 percent of the field out.”

It’s a similar mental toughness that Tracy sees in Mancuso.

”She embraces these big events,” Tracy said. ”She really does a good job of focusing on exactly what she needs to do. On the outside she looks like she’s a little bit carefree, but on the inside she knows exactly what she needs to do and when to do it.

After six women crashed on the bumpy course during Wednesday’s downhill, it was altered and proved more forgiving. The start was lowered, a customary move for the super combined downhill, and the final jump was shaved down so skiers didn’t catch as much air.

Only three racers fell Thursday, but Mancuso said the course was still ”really bouncy.”

Kaylin Richardson of the U.S., who specializes in technical events, was happy with the changes.

”For the girls that rallied after the big crashes, I think it eased their minds a little bit,” Richardson said.

After her slalom run, Richardson radioed up a report on the course to Mancuso and Vonn.

Her advice: ”Just go for it.”

Both did, even though for Vonn it wasn’t necessary.

All Vonn had to do was stay on her feet to win a medal.

”I wanted to win,” Vonn said. ”I won gold yesterday so I didn’t really want to shoot for something lower than that.”

Vonn spends most of her time training for the speed events, Tracy said. While she’s still among the best in the world in the technical events, the slalom has proven especially frustrating over the past month.

It was during slalom training where she injured her shin, forcing her to ski in pain. But Vonn wasn’t making excuses.

”The shin wasn’t the reason I didn’t finish the race today,” Vonn said. ”It was just because I hooked a tip and that happens in ski racing all the time. I just wish it wasn’t at the Olympic Games.”