Tiara and All, Mancuso Crowned Champion

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February 25, 2006

SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Bob Baum)—They were all there to cheer her on _ sister, mother, father and grandparents. Family means everything to Julia Mancuso. And Italy means a lot to her family.

Her mother's family is from Bologna, her father is from the south. So it was fitting that the Italian Alps were the scene of the 21-year-old American's breakthrough performance that earned her an Olympic gold medal in the giant slalom on Friday. It was the only Alpine medal for an American woman at the Turin Olympics.

"It's a little new to me so we'll see what comes, she said of her newfound fame. "It should be a good time. I'm proud to represent the United States.

Grandfather Denny Tuffanelli, bothered by a sore back, used two canes to stand and cheer his granddaughter.

"He's a real trooper, she said.

Mother Andrea Mancuso was bursting with pride.

"She's been getting ready to do this since she was 3 years old on the 'Mighty Mites' ski team, she said. "Just watch her. You can see she loves to ski.

Sister April, who drives Mancuso through Europe on her World Cup tour, is filming a documentary.

"I don't know whether we're really going to sell the documentary or whether anybody will buy it, Julia Mancuso said. "I think she's just doing it for fun.

Mancuso has no bigger supporter than her father, Ciro, a major force in her career, especially since he was released from prison in 2000 after serving just under five years for what authorities said was a $120 million marijuana distribution ring.

"Me and my dad have a great relationship, Mancuso said. "He's always there to support me no matter what I do.

A prominent real estate developer in the Lake Tahoe area who was allowed to keep a large share of his assets as part of his plea bargain, Ciro Mancuso has the resources to come to his daughter's aid.[pagebreak]"He came over when I was struggling a couple of years ago, arranged to get a car and a trainer in Austria, and also with an apartment, Mancuso said. "It's been really great to have that kind of support.

Mancuso has hinted at this kind of skiing success. At last year's world championships, she won bronze medals in the super-G and giant slalom. She had three top-three finishes in World Cup races this season.

But she had never won a World Cup race, and no one expected the blazing fast first run through snowy, foggy conditions that put her in first place, .18 second ahead of favorite Anja Paerson of Sweden. For the first time in a major event, Mancuso _ the leader _ was the last of the contenders down the course on the second run.

Mancuso conceded she was nervous, but it was Paerson who struggled just ahead of her and wound up in sixth place. Mancuso took on the course with just the right mix of caution and risk.

"I couldn't see anything, she said. "That could have been to my advantage, because I was ready to give my best and not hold back just because I couldn't ski.

Tanja Poutiainen of Finland won the silver medal, .67 seconds behind Mancuso. Anna Ottosson of Sweden was third, 1.14 seconds back.

Maybe now those T-shirts and sweatshirts Mancuso brought to Italy will sell a little better. The 20 pair of "Super Jules underwear she brought "might be the biggest sellers, she said.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press