American Lindsey Vonn overcame a painful injury and the weight of massive expectation to win a scintillating and, for many, very painful women's downhill and seize the limelight at the Winter Olympics on Wednesday.

Vonn's triumph and the first appearance of another American showman, snowboarder Shaun White, immediately lifted the mood at a tragedy and snag-shrouded Games which has been coming in for increasing criticism from international media and some fans.

Vonn became the first American to win the women's showpiece event on a picture-perfect winter's day in the Canadian mountains. Just a week ago she had arrived in Vancouver complaining of an excruciatingly painful shin injury which she said threatened her very participation in the Games.

It was also a day for relief for traditional Winter Games powerhouses Norway and Russia who finally opened their gold medal account on Day Five and snowboard wizard White began his quest for a back-to-back title in the halfpipe.

Vonn, though, captured the most attention and showed that pre-Games hype that these would be remembered as the Vonn-couver Olympics was not just so much hot air.

The 25-year-old hurtled down a treacherously icy Whistler mountain in one minute 44.19 seconds to win her first Olympic medal after two failed previous attempts, flopping into the snow after she crossed the finish line.

I knew what I had to do, I knew what type of run I needed to take, Vonn said.

I had to attack and I did that. I made it down. It's awesome, it's all I ever wanted.

Vonn's American team mate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic giant slalom champion, collected the silver medal, more than half a second behind Vonn.

Austria's Elisabeth Goergl won the bronze medal 46 years after her mother Traudl Hecher finished third in the same event at Innsbruck.


Germany's Maria Riesch, Vonn's best friend and main rival, was unable to produce her best and finished well out of the medals as the slippery slope wreaked havoc on the field.

Sweden's Anja Paerson looked set for the silver medal before falling heavily on the final jump while Romania's Edith Miklos was airlifted from the course by helicopter after a high-speed crash into the safety netting.

Nikita Kriukov won the men's cross country sprint classic after lunging across the line to beat his Russian team mate Alexander Panzhinskiy in a photo-finish.

Norway's Petter Northug, one of the most dominant figures in the sport, finished a distant third.

Norway did win gold in the women's final when Marit Bjoergen surged to victory after the pre-race favorite Petra Majdic badly injured her ribs in a training accident.

The Slovenian was in excruciating pain as she crossed the line in third place, behind Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk, collapsing in pain and needing assistance to leave the finishing area.

Her performance, coupled with Vonn's stirring victory in one of the most dangerous and glamorous events of the Olympics, provided a rare feelgood day to a Games blighted by tragedy and unseasonal bad weather.

Almost on cue, the heavy snow falls and thick fog that forced the postponement of some earlier Alpine events gave way to clear blue skies and transformed the mountain into a winter wonderland.


Another four gold medals were due to decided on Wednesday, including the luge doubles.

The sport has been unwittingly thrust into the spotlight following the death of Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run last week.

His death has cast a pall over the Games that has been impossible to lift and raised questions over the safety of the lightning-fast track.

The International Luge Federation and Games organizers said the track was safe and blamed human error for the death but their findings angered the family and friends of the 21-year-old, whose body was laid to rest at his homeland on Wednesday.

Any athlete can make a mistake but this mistake should not result in death. This is sport, not gladiators, a family friend told mourners at the funeral.

American White, one of the most recognizable figures of the Games with his long, red hair, safely made it through to the final of Wednesday night's snowboarding half-pipe title as he tried to defend the title he won in Turin four years ago.

Gold medals will also be decided in men's speedskating and women's short track on Wednesday after the United States joined Germany, South Korea and Switzerland at the top of the medal standings with three gold medals each.