| Vonn carries the hopes of a nation as she bags the Olympic gold [GALLO/GETTY]
Lindsey Vonn struck gold for the United States, surviving a crash course in downhill skiing to beat compatriot Julia Mancuso to give the USA a 1-2 finish in an opening women's Alpine race on an icy course that contributed to a string of wipe-outs.
The 25-year-old Vonn, downhill world champion and World Cup leader, joined snowboarding all-star Shaun White and Shani Davis who all struck gold as the USA put on a gold-star performance in Vancouver.
Vonn went out 10th and sped down the Franz's Downhill course in 1 minute,
44.19 seconds, 0.56 seconds ahead of Mancuso. Austria's Elisabeth Goergl was
next, 1.46 seconds back.
White showed why he is one of the most recognisable and highest paid athletes in winter sports with a near-flawless display of aerobatics to defend the snowboarding half pipe title he won in Turin four years ago.
Not to be outdone, Shani Davis then stormed home over the final lap at the Richmond Olympic Oval to become the first man to win the 1,000 metres speed skating title at successive Olympics as the US rolled out their big guns to catapult to the top of the medal standings.
"I gave up everything for this. It means everything to me ... It's awesome,'' said Vonn.
Vonn had earlier overcome a painful injury and a treacherous Whistler mountain course that wiped out some of her main rivals to become the first American to win the women's downhill.
The north American media has followed every step of her recovery in minute detail for the last two weeks.
"I dreamed about what this would feel like, but it is much better in real life,'' Vonn said.
"I can't stop crying. This is everything that I ever wanted and hoped for.''
The flame-haired 23-year-old Shaun White nicknamed the "Flying Tomato" from California wowed the new generation of Olympic fans at Cypress Mountain with a routine packed with somersaults and magical stunts.
|The "Flying Tomato" in action [GALLO/GETTY]
Davis finished in 1:08.94 in the last pairing to shave 18-hundredths off South Korean Mo Tae-bum's earlier time.
White had the half pipe title wrapped up before his last run, but still improved his score to 48.4 points when he laid down his signature trick, the Double McTwist 1260.
Finland's Peetu Piiroinen won silver, 3.4 points behind, and American Scotty Lago took bronze.
The three victories gave the powerful American team a total of five gold medals after the fifth full day of competition, ahead of Germany, South Korea and Switzerland, who each had three golds.
The Americans also won two silvers and a bronze on Wednesday but the traditional Winter Games powerhouses Russia, Norway and Austria all opened their gold medal accounts while China won their second and Slovenia's Petra Majdic won the admiration of everyone with her brave third-place finish in the women's cross country sprint classic.
Majdic was urged by doctors to pull out of her event after she tripped and fell in a deep hole during a morning training run, badly bruising the muscles around her ribs.
She could hardly breathe but ignored the medical advice and made it through to the final, which she finished in so much pain that she collapsed on to the snow and needed help just to get on the medal podium.
"I won not only a bronze medal for myself, this is a gold with little diamonds on it," she said.
China earned their second gold when Wang Meng easily defended her Olympic title in the women's 500-metre short track.
In the cross country, Nikita Kriukov picked up Russia's first gold in Vancouver when he edged compatriot Alexander Panzhinskiy in a photo finish in the men's sprint, both finishing in 3:36.3.
Sweden's Anja Paerson missed out on the silver after falling heavily on the final jump and 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.
Marit Bjoergen won her first Olympic gold medal - ending an eight-year drought in Olympic cross-country races for Norway, where it is considered a national sport - when she pulled away from Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk and Slovenia's Petra Majdic in the women's sprint.
Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger defended their title in doubles luge, completing their two runs in 1 minute, 22.705 seconds to become only the second doubles team to win consecutive Olympics.
It finished a Vancouver luge program tainted by tragedy following the death of 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run on Friday, hours before the games' opening ceremony.