The United States landed a thrilling 1-2 combo in the women's downhill today at Whistler Creekside, with Lindsey Vonn justifying the hype that accompanied her to Vancouver and Julia Mancuso providing a reminder that the US Alpine ski team has more than one elite competitor.
LVonn won her first Olympic gold medal today with a time of 1 minute 44.19 seconds, more than a half-second ahead of teammate and silver medalist Mancuso (1:14.75). It was Mancuso's second career Olympic medal -- she won won the gold in the GS at Turin, Italy.
Austria's Elisabeth Goergl took the bronze, more than a second-and-a-half behind Vonn.
Vonn's condition was something of a mystery entering the race. As the two-time defending World Cup champion and winner of five of six downhills this season on the circuit, she came to Vancouver as the prohibitive favorite in the race.
But she revealed shortly after arrival at Whistler that she still was suffering from effects of a badly bruised shin suffered during a fall Feb. 2 during a race in Austria, and the friendly and charismatic pre-Olympic "face of the Games" for the US appeared to be in limbo.
She rarely took to the slopes in the past couple of weeks, but she gained a little bit of additional time to recover because of various delays and postponements of the skiing events in Whistler due to uncooperative weather.
But there was a new question on observers' minds virtually from the moment Vonn shot out of the gate during her run: Shin injury? What shin injury?
It did not appear to be any hindrance whatsoever. Starting 16th, a favorable position since she could receive reports of the course's condition while making her run while it was still relatively fresh, she put together a determined practically flawless performance save for a barely visible stumble near the 53-second mark that cost her a fraction of a second.
Vonn bested Mancuso's time at all four checkpoints and won by a remarkable margin of 0.56 seconds. Her gold was essentially secured at the midway point after rival Maria Riesch of Germany finished nearly two seconds behind her pace starting from the 22d position.
The Vonn-Mancuso combo atop the podium marks the first time a pair of Americans have finished in the top two spots in an Olympic Alpine race since Phil and Steve Mahre claimed gold and silver in the slalom and Deb Armstrong and Christin Cooper accomplished the feat in giant slalom in 1984 at Sarajevo.
Also, they are the first duo from the same country to win silver and gold in the women's downhill in the same Olympics since Sarajevo, when Switzerland's Michela Figini and Maria Walliser claimed the top spots on the podium.
While course conditions were said to be favorable at the beginning of the race, there were a number of crashes. Sweden's Anja Paerson, Switzerland's Dominique Gisin, and France's Marion Rolland all suffered spectacular and frigthening spills.
Update, 12:13 p.m. PST: Germany's Maria Riesch just completed her run, the 22d competitor out of the gate. She was considered one of Vonn's legitimate challengers, but she finished 8th, 2.07 seconds off Vonn's pace.
We're moving past the halfway mark here with American Alice McKennis's run, and it's becoming clearer how impressive Vonn's run really was.
She finished more than a half-second ahead of Mancuso and nearly a full second ahead of Elisabeth Goergl, who is in position for the bronze.
Update, 12:08 p.m. PST: If Vonn and Mancuso hold on to the 1-2 spots, they would be the first pair of skiers from the same country to win silver and gold in the women's downhill in the same Olympics since Sarajevo in 1984, when Switzerland's Michela Figini and Maria Walliser claimed the top spots on the podium.
Another delay as Sweden's Anja Paerson is helped off after losing control during a jump and tumbling down the course.
Update, 11:53 p.m. PST: If Lindsey Vonn is still hurting, imagine how impressive she must be when fully healthy.
Vonn just completed a spectacular, near-perfect run down Whistler Creekside of 1 minute 44.19 seconds, taking over first place from her teammate Julia Mancuso (1:44.75).
After completing her run, which appeared practically flawless save for a slight stumble near the 53-second mark, a grinning Vonn, who has been plagued by a painful shin injury, collapsed in the snow while raising her ski poles skyward as the crowd roared its approval.
Vonn beat Mancuso's time at all four time checkpoints:
Update, 11:47 p.m. PST: Vonn's coming up right . . . now. Good time to mention that no American has ever won gold here. The most recent of their four all-time medals (two silver, two bronze) was Picabo Street's silver in 1994 in Lillehammer.
Update, 11:28 PST: Could another American steal the show?
Julia Mancuso just completed a spectacular run, and she knows it -- she's beaming and waving at the finish line after taking the lead with a time of 1:44.75.
Elisabeth Goergl of Austria is second at nearly a full second back.
In a related note, our Olympics guru John Powers refers to the relationship between Vonn and Mancuso as "cordial." Interpret it as you will.
There's a brief delay right now after a frightening crash by Switzerland's Dominique Gasin, who got turned around in the air after navigating a turn. One ski flew off while she skittered out of control down the course. She walked off under her own power
Update, 11:18 PST: Nice run for Californian Stacey Cook, who took a temporary lead after four competitors.
Cook fell during a training run Monday and was airlifted from the mountain after hitting a fence and landing on the back of her skis. She was just one of two skiers to train that day before it was canceled because of poor visability.
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It's almost showtime for Lindsey Vonn and the 44 other competitors in the women's downhill.
Vonn will start from the 16th position at Whistler Creekside, an enviable spot since the course should be broken in and in good condition.
Among other US skiers, Stacey Cook starts 4th, Julia Mancuso 10th, and Alice McKennis 23d.
Back in a few . . .