It took a heroic effort from Lindsey Vonn on Wednesday to steal a gold medal away from Lake Tahoe’s Julia Mancuso, who finished second in the much anticipated Women’s Downhill event at the Vancouver Games.
The 10th skier to head down the slick, dangerous downhill course at Whistler Creekside, Mancuso showed great skill in putting together a near-perfect run and surprisingly taking over first place, her lead nearly a full second.
But it was the much-hyped Vonn, the gold-medal favorite entering the Games, outdoing her longtime rival with an aggressive, powerful effort on the bumpy course that made her painfully bruised shin ache even more.
Vonn overcame the sore shin and all of the pre-race distractions for a time of 1:44.19 on the 2,939-meter course. Vonn edged Mancuso of Squaw Valley by 0.56 seconds. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria took the bronze medal, 1.46 seconds back. Truckee native Stacey Cook had a strong run and finished fifth.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Vonn said. “There were a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure coming into these Games. I stood up to that. I fought back today and I think I proved to everyone that I’m a good skier.”
An elated Mancuso finished her run, glanced at the time, and then let out a big scream of delight and pumped her right fist.
“Just being on the podium is really a big accomplishment,” Mancuso said. “I was just reminded that the last time I was on the podium was here in the World Cup (two years ago). Since then, I’ve battled with a lot of back injuries.”
Vonn and Mancuso are the first Americans to finish 1-2 in an Olympic Alpine event since the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
Phil and Steve Mahre won gold and silver in the men’s slalom that year, while Debbie Armstrong and Cristin Cooper took the top two podium spots in the women’s giant slalom.
Mancuso took gold in the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games, but injuries have thwarted her ever since. She hadn’t finished on the podium since the Olympic test downhill here two years ago.
Mancuso has won only two World Cup downhills in her career, the last one nearly three years ago.
Both Mancuso and Vonn, both 25, are expected to be several more events at the Vancouver Games.