By Alan Baldwin
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Just before setting off for Monday's Olympic super-combined event, Julia Mancuso received a message from the U.S. team media officer telling her to bring podium clothes because she was going to need them.
The skier, who has not stood on a podium in the World Cup since March last year, decided instead to leave them packed and ready in her room, telling herself: "You know, I'm not going to bring them but I know I'm going to get a medal."
The most successful U.S. female Olympic Alpine skier of all time should have listened to her team.
By the end of the day, after setting the fastest time in the downhill leg and then battling down a tricky slalom hill that claimed several other top names, she was heading off down the mountain to collect a bronze medal.
In the process, the 29-year-old became the first American woman to stand on an Alpine podium at three successive Olympics and completed her set of gold, silver and bronze with the fourth medal of her career.
She also proved the power of positive thinking.
"It's been a really tough season for me and I've always just had that real belief that I can do it," she told reporters after wild celebrations at the finish.
"For me it's putting out these dreams and beliefs that I can come in here and get a medal and everyone being a little skeptical and just knowing in my heart that I can do it.
"It was kind of like crossing the finish line and saying 'See, it works! Believing in yourself really works. I got a medal today.'"
Mancuso won giant slalom gold in Turin in 2006 and downhill and combined silver in Vancouver four years ago. But this season has been hard going and she needed a Christmas break at home to pull it all together.
Slalom is most definitely not her forte, in fact she has not raced one this season, but against rivals who list that as their strongest discipline she held her own.
"The Olympics is really my redemption. The moment that I can make my season better," she said.
"I skied my heart out," Mancuso said of her slalom run.
"I definitely had moments in my mind when I was thinking this is definitely not going to be good enough but keep fighting.
"I knew where to let it run on that last pitch and surprise! I looked up and got a medal."
Mancuso has always been a 'big event' skier, someone who can never be ruled out at Olympics or world championships even when others are more in the limelight.
Monday, under the floodlights of the Rosa Khutor slalom piste, the Squaw Valley skier once again demonstrated just what a competitor she is.
"She is everything you want your athletes to be," said Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
"You think about what she did today to get this medal ... she's a game changer."
Women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said she was someone who radiated positive energy and rose to the occasion.
"She really sucks up the energy going into those games. She gets super-excited and it just fills her up with the energy," said the Austrian.
"She goes to the opening ceremony and talks to the other girls, like ‘You girls have got to go because this is the greatest thing and it's going to amp you up'.
"She is just a true champion and knows how to perform at big events and how to get excited."
Mancuso's family do too.
Her sister ran across the finish enclosure as the medalists were being presented with their flowers to hug Mancuso, wrapped in the U.S. flag, before diving back across the inflatable barriers.
Those podium clothes were about to be needed.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)