WHISTLER CREEKSIDE (Feb. 17) – In one of the greatest performances in U.S. ski racing history, Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) became the first American woman to win downhill gold, while Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) took silver Wednesday for the first 1-2 American finish since 1984.
"It's incredible, one of the most emotional moments in my life," a tearful Vonn said after flooring it from 16th start position and ignoring lingering pain in her injured shin. "I knew what I had to do. I knew what type of run I needed to take. I needed to attack, and I did that, I made it down. It's awesome. It's all I ever wanted."
Vonn's run wasn't perfect – "a little bit ragged," she called it – but it was more than fast enough in hard, bumpy conditions that gave many in the field difficulties.
"It was definitely a challenge just to make it down for me, but I was focused and determined and just tried not to think about it," Vonn said of the course's effect on her bruised shin. "The last jump definitely made me think about it more – it was really painful – but that's all over now. I finished, I won, and I'm happy."
More than a half second slower than Vonn, Mancuso's trailblazing time was still .9 seconds faster than Austrian bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl. The 25-year-old who has battled injuries the past two seasons adds silver to her giant slalom gold from Torino.
"I really like the tougher courses," Mancuso said. "There wasn't a lot of tucking going on up there, and it was pretty high speed. I like it when you don't get in your tuck, and I like it when it follows the natural terrain. There were a lot of jumps and good stuff going on. It was a really, really good race."
Mancuso and Vonn already had a history on Franz's Olympic downhill. The pair were 1-2 (Vonn first) in Monday's first official training session, and Vonn clinched her first of two consecutive World Cup downhill titles two years ago on the same day Mancuso won her last major international podium with a World Cup third.
That familiarity showed when Mancuso launched her small frame into huge early airs and kept a tight line through the technical sections for a gaping lead.
Vonn, in her first race since Jan. 31, recovered well from a few minor mistakes and was the only skier to lead Mancuso's splits besides Sweden's Anja Paerson – who suffered an ugly crash late in the race.
"To come into the finish area and see my name and Julia's up there was amazing," Vonn said after falling to the ground and putting her fists in the air. "It's a great day for American sports and for alpine skiing."
It is the second time two U.S. women have ever medaled in the same Olympic ski racing event – Debbie Armstrong beat out teammate Christin Cooper for giant slalom gold in Sarajevo – and Vonn's is the ninth total U.S. women's gold medal. In the same Games, Phil and Steve Mahre went gold-silver in slalom.
"It's pretty incredible," Mancuso said. "Especially to be here, in Whistler, in North America, to have Lindsey first and me second. I'm not one to really think about statistics, but I just think that it's awesome, especially in America. We just love the Olympics and it's living our dreams."
Coming in as a heavy medal favorite and dubbed by some America's "golden girl," Vonn can breath a huge sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of her Olympic experience.
"The pressure for me is gone," she said. "I got exactly what I came here to get. I have a lot of weight off my shoulders now. I can ski confidently, I know I can do it even with the shin injury. I've already won a gold medal, so I don't have to think about that, I just have to think about skiing well."
Vonn said she hopes she can be the inspiration that two-time Olympic medalist Picabo Street was to her when she met her idol at a Minnesota ski shop as a nine-year-old.
"Meeting Picabo when I was nine years old was one of the reasons why I wanted to be an Olympian," she said. "It's definitely been a long journey since that ski shop in Minnesota, but she really inspired me, and that's what I want to do and what I hope to do with this next generation of skiers."
Rounding out the incredible day for the U.S. Team was Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, CA), whose brave run was good for 11th less than a week after a hard training crash saw her airlifted from the course.
20-year-old Alice McKennis veered off course on Wednesday but managed to traverse the hill and narrowly make the next gate for an official finish of 36th.
Vonn's downhill glory will air in primetime on NBC tonight, with Vonn and Mancuso poised to contend in Thursday's super combined along with fellow U.S. starters Leanne Smith (Conway, NH) and Kaylin Richardson (Edina, MN). The downhill begins at 9:30 a.m. PT, with slalom to follow at 12:30 p.m.
2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Whistler Creekside, BC – Feb. 17
Gold – Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 1:44.19
Silver – Julia Mancuso, Olympic Valley, CA, 1:44.75
Bronze – Elisabeth Goergl, Austria, 1:45.65
4. Andrea Fischbacher, Austria, 1:45.68
5. Fabienne Suter, Switzerland, 1:46.17
11. Stacey Cook, Mammoth Mountain, CA, 1:46.98
36. Alice McKennis, Glenwood Springs, CO, 2:00.68