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Americans soar

Thu., Feb. 18, 2010

American Shaun White takes flight during his 46.8-point first-heat run while defending his gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe.  (Associated Press)
American Shaun White takes flight during his 46.8-point first-heat run while defending his gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe. (Associated Press)

Vonn fulfills hype; White, Davis also claim gold for U.S.

Welcome to the Vonn-couver Olympics.

She owns them now, bought them Wednesday with nearly two miles of hard mountain at Whistler, British Columbia – painted them in red, white, blond and bad.

Lindsey Vonn, the American skiing superstar with the injured shin, iridescent bikinis, and a gondola full of pressure, wore all of it down Whistler as if it were wings on a day when the United States won three gold medals with Shaun White winning the men’s halfpipe and Shani Davis the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race. The U.S. won six medals, its best performance in Winter Games history.

In less than two minutes, Vonn forever changed the face of U.S. women’s skiing – and perhaps women’s athletics – when she became the first American woman skier to win the Olympic downhill.

Then sat in the cold and cried.

“There was a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure coming into these games,” she said later. “I stood up to that and fought back.”

Vonn didn’t just win it. She delivered it. She dominated it. She stuck it under her spandex arms – stars on right, stripes on left – and flew off into history with it, blowing away the time of leader and teammate Julia Mancuso by the first turn, soaring through the course in 1:44.19.

In an event where winners often triumph by a few hundredths of a second, she beat Mancuso by .66, which is pretty much like the NFL preseason favorite surviving a tumultuous season by winning the Super Bowl by four touchdowns.

She finished with a stunned scream, falling flat on her back at the finish line while joyfully moving her arms and legs.

America’s snow angel.

“I questioned myself for a long time whether I would even be racing and if I would be able to win any medal,” Vonn said. “To come back and stand here today after everything I’ve been through is amazing.”In winning, a new poster has been tacked on the wall of America’s teenagers, Vonn moving toward becoming this country’s first beloved female sports star since soccer heroes Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain a decade ago.

She came to Vancouver as the centerpiece to the U.S. team, the greatest story yet to happen, a World Cup champion who awaited only Olympic validation.

But before her first news conference, magazine photos appeared of Vonn posing in scraps of bikini, drawing criticism. Then during the news conference she acknowledged seriously injuring her shin, yet not agreeing to X-rays while choosing to rub it with cheese.

But when racing was delayed three days because of weather, it gave her shin more time to heal.

“This is everything I’ve worked my whole life for, and I knew that in the starting gate,” Vonn said.

White defends title

He has cool nicknames – ”The Flying Tomato” and “The Animal.” He has his own private halfpipe – Project X – in Silverton Mountain in Colorado. He has his own video game – “Shaun White Snowboarding.” He has his own DVD – “The White Adventures.” He has endorsement deals that have made him a multimillionaire.

Now, snowboarder Shaun White has something else – another Olympic gold medal.

White, 23, repeated in the halfpipe, scoring a 46.8 out of 50 on his first run in the final. He did even better on his throwaway second run with a 48.4.

American Scott Lago took the bronze, with Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen preventing a 1-2 finish by the U.S. with a 45.0 on his last run for the silver.

White was so much better than the rest of the field that he didn’t even need his signature trick, the Double McTwist 1260. It’s a dangerous maneuver – three horizontal rotations inside two vertical flips.

But after he won he did a victory lap and gave everybody what they had come to see – the Double McTwist 1260.

Davis wins again

With a furious kick on the final lap, Shani Davis stuck his skate across the line and won his second straight title in 1,000-meter speedskating, the first skater to win this event twice at the Winter Games.

The Americans broke their medal drought at the Richmond Olympic Oval with a flourish, claiming two spots on the podium. Chad Hedrick, who won three medals at the 2006 games, took the bronze.

Davis dug deep on his final lap, knowing he needed a little more speed to catch South Korea’s Mo Tae-bum. The American world-record holder found just enough, posting a time of 1 minute, 8.94 seconds.

“Those last 200, 300 meters were very difficult,” said Davis, who usually leaves his left arm on his back until the final straightaway. “I was just trying to carry my speed. I could feel it leaving me. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, just as long as you get across the line as quick as you could.”

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