Updated: February 17, 2010, 4:58 PM ET
Vonn, Mancuso go 1-2 in downhill
ESPN.com news services
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Lindsey Vonn of the United States, fighting off an injured right shin, won the women's Olympic downhill on Wednesday -- the first of five races she plans to enter at the Vancouver Games.
Vonn covered the 2,939-meter course at Whistler Creekside in 1:44.19 -- more than a half-second ahead of her teammate Julia Mancuso, who earned the silver.
Mancuso's time of 1:44.75 led by nearly a second after the first 15 racers. But Vonn, who lost two weeks of training time and, at one point was questionable for the Olympics after injuring her shin in training, eclipsed it -- then waited for the rest of the 45-woman field to complete its run.
Vonn, 26, is the two-time defending World Cup champ, and the defending World Cup champ in the downhill.
"This is the best day of my life," Vonn, crying, told CTV as the race was in progress. "It's awesome. It was really bumpy, you know. It's a really challenging course and I almost lost it on the top. I just kept it going and kept fighting."
It's the third time two Americans have finished 1-2 in an Olympic Alpine race, and the first time in 26 years.
At the 1984 Sarajevo Games, brothers Phil and Steve Mahre took gold and silver in the slalom and Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper accomplished the feat in giant slalom.
Vonn was hurt Feb. 2 during pre-Olympic practice in Austria and had hardly skied over the past two weeks.
Still, as the two-time defending overall World Cup champion and the winner of five of the six downhills this season, she entered as an overwhelming favorite.
Mancuso won the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games but hadn't finished on the podium since the Olympic test downhill here two years ago. The Squaw Valley, Calif., skier has won only two World Cup downhills in her career, the last nearly three years ago.
Mancuso was an early starter and still led when Vonn skied.
Vonn, a Minnesota native who lives and trains in Vail, Colo., put on a skiing clinic for all the world to see.
Waiting in the starting gate with the sun reflecting orange off her goggles as she stared down the course, Vonn was a study in concentration. Kicking out of the start without regard to her bruised shin, she increased her lead at the first three checkpoints, kicking up a trail of smoky snow in her wake as if she were a race car, tucking at every opportunity.
Just when it seemed Vonn might go wide, she applied even more leg pressure, shifted her weight and maintained her line.
It wasn't all perfect, however, and Vonn lost nearly two tenths on the bottom, almost getting knocked off balance as she went over a small bump just before the finish.
It was more than enough for gold, however, and Vonn collapsed on her back in joy in the finish area. She then raised herself and placed both arms in the air in triumph
"This means so much to me," said Mancuso. "I haven't been on the podium in a year, so being back on an Olympic podium and getting a silver medal is so special. To win an Olympic medal is the biggest award you can receive in sports."
Germany's Maria Riesch, the only other woman to win a World Cup downhill this season and considered a legitimate threat to Vonn, fell off the pace early and finished in 1:46.26 -- more than two seconds off the pace.
Elisabeth Goergl of Austria was behind Mancuso in 1:45.65 and will take the bronze medal.
Swedish standout Anja Paerson became the latest victim of an ugly crash on the difficult Olympic downhill course. Paerson, the holder of five Olympic medals got a huge amount of air off the final jump and shifted her weight backward when she finally landed, then crashed through the final gate and got twisted around. She slowly slid headfirst across the finish line and sat up as she was tended to by officials. Dominique Gisin of Switzerland also crashed while landing the final jump, and Daniela Merighetti and Marion Rolland also fell. Injury details were not immediately available.
American Stacey Cook, fourth down the hill, completed the race in 1:46.98 and was in 11th place. The other American in the field, Alice McKennis, was 34th in 2:00.68.
The temperature was slightly above freezing for the race on the 2,939-meter course, dubbed Franz's Downhill. The race was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was delayed by bad weather conditions at Whistler Creekside.