Overcoming a shin injury and living up to huge expectations, the most decorated female alpine skier in U.S. history tore through the rugged and ragged course Wednesday, winning by more than half a second. Teammate and 2006 giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso finished second, followed by Austria's Elisabeth Gorgl.
VIDEO: Lindsey Vonn wins emotional first gold
Vonn's victory was the first for an American woman in the event, and the 1-2 finish was the first for the U.S. in an alpine event in 26 years.
Hyped as Vancouver's answer to Michael Phelps in Beijing, Vonn — who will compete in all five alpine events — was dealt what could have been a devastating blow to her multiple-medal campaign when she crashed during a training run 10 days before the opening ceremony and bruised her right shin.
But the 25-year-old is known for competing and winning with injuries, so she blazed down the mountain, lifting her right ski at the finish to favor her shin. Seeing her time, she let out a series of screams and fell on her back. When her victory became official after the final skiers raced, Vonn, who has 31 World Cup wins (16 of which are in downhill), met her husband and coach, Thomas Vonn, at the bottom of the course and cried in his arms.
"Awesome. Awesome," he told her. "You enjoy every minute of it. This is what you worked for."
It was a big day altogether for the U.S. and its biggest stars. Shani Davis, who in Torino was the first black athlete to win individual gold in the Winter Games with his 1,000-meter long track victory, became the first speed skater to repeat in the event. Teammate Chad Hedrick claimed the bronze behind South Korea's Mo Tae-Bum, who won the 500-meter race on Monday.
Snowboarding sensation Shaun White continued to fly solo above his peers, dominating the halfpipe competition from beginning to end to become the first person to defend gold in the discipline — and he didn't even need his groundbreaking new trick, the double McTwist 1260, to do it. He won with his 46.8-scoring first run, but still churned out the mind-bending move on his victory lap, earning a 48.4.
Finland's Peetu Piiroinen bagged the silver and White's teammate, Scotty Lago, earned the bronze. Dancing with the Stars alum Louie Vito finished fifth.
White's and Lago's medals gave the U.S. six medals (three gold) in one day — the most the country's pocketed in a single day at a Winter Games.
Other winners included Norway's Marit Bjorgen in the women's individual cross-country sprint, Russia's Nikita Kruikov in the men's individual cross-country sprint and the Austrian team in the doubles luge.