By PAT GRAHAM, Associated Press
WINTER PARK, Colo. (AP) — Julia Mancuso simply can't switch off her competitive nature, even in a friendly competition.
Behind after the first run because of a costly bobble on the top of the course, Mancuso tried to convince herself it wasn't a big deal and if she didn't make up the time it really didn't matter.
But it did matter. That's just the way the Olympic gold medalist is wired.
Mancuso overcame a first-run mistake with a blistering second trip through the mushy course Saturday to capture a fourth straight giant slalom crown at U.S. championships.
Mancuso finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 23.24 seconds to hold off youngsters Kristine Gjelsten Haugen and Mikaela Shiffrin.
"Of course it's discouraging to have a problem like the first run," Mancuso said. "My competitive side is getting bummed out. The other side was like, 'Who cares? These girls are skiing fast, it's a highlight in their career.'"
Instead, Mancuso made it another highlight in hers as she skied away with her 15th national title, the most by a U.S. skier. She also won the super-G on Friday.
Mancuso trailed Haugen of Norway by more than a second after the opening pass on the soft snow. That's a sizable lead on the World Cup circuit.
But here, given the youth and inexperience in the field, the deficit was more manageable. She was all business in the starting gate before the final run and even more focused once she hit the course.
"I like to keep a game face, put the pressure on," she said.
That's a quality Mancuso picked up from veteran skier Sarah Schleper, who announced her retirement earlier this season.
"We'd train and Sarah would say, 'OK, Julia, this is the second run of the Olympics. I'm in first and you're in second by a hundredth of a second. Now, go!'" recounted Mancuso, who's from Squaw Valley, Calif. "We'd do this a lot.
"When I come here it's a lot of fun, but I want them to know and to believe that I'm out here gunning for titles just as hard as they are. They better watch out and step up their game."
Mancuso didn't have overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn to worry about after Vonn failed to finish her first run when she missed an early gate.
Vonn has been bothered by aching knees this season, something she kept hidden from the media. She's scheduled for an MRI exam on Monday.
"I don't think it will be too big of a deal," Vonn said. "Hopefully, it won't set me back too far."
Shiffrin had another stellar performance at nationals. Three days ago, she defended her slalom title.
The 17-year-old Shiffrin had a memorable rookie season on the World Cup circuit, where she earned her first podium spot by claiming third in the slalom last December in Lienz, Austria. She also had three other top-10 finishes in the slalom.
With her skill and charisma, Shiffrin has been drawing more and more comparisons to her idol, Vonn.
"I put so much more pressure on myself than anyone puts on me," Shiffrin said. "If I cave under the pressure, it's just because I was thinking too much about what I wanted, not what everybody else expected of me. That's something I've been battling with all season — try not to expect anything and go out there and put my best turns out there."
The last race of nationals will be held Sunday with the men's giant slalom. Tommy Ford is the defending champion.
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