TORINO, Italy – Antoine Deneriaz won the marquee event of the Winter Olympics on Sunday with a surprising late run to upstage the Austrians and Americans in the men's downhill.
Unsurprisingly, Michelle Kwan withdrew from the games, ending her decade-long quest for gold.
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Armin Zoeggeler gave host nation Italy its first golden moment with victory in the luge.
Kwan, the five-time figure skating world champion, pulled out because of a groin injury.
"I would love to compete in my third Olympics, but I love and respect the sport, and I think it's all about the United States bringing their best team," Kwan said. "I wouldn't want to be in the way of that."
Deneriaz — ranked 16th coming into the Olympics — snatched the men's downhill gold with a blistering run down the Kandahar Banchetta course under blue skies in the Italian Alps.
The 29-year-old Frenchman's time of 1 minute, 48.80 seconds beat silver medal winner Michael Walchoffer of Austria, the reigning World Cup downhill champion, by nearly three-quarters of a second.
"I've been thinking of nothing else for the past year," Deneriaz, who was the last starter of the top 30 skiers, told French television. "It's incredible. I'm Olympic champion."
Bruno Kernen of Switzerland was third.
American gold medal prospects Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves ended fifth and 10th respectively.
"I felt I lost my grip in the last three turns," Miller said.
Austria's Hermann Maier, also was well off the pace. "The Herminator" finished in sixth, 1.2 seconds slower than Deneriaz.
Another American had more luck in the mountains.
Wearing a stars-and-stripes bandanna across his chest and with his trademark mop of red hair spilling out of his helmet, Shaun White soared and spun out of the men's halfpipe for a winning score of 46.8 on his first run of finals.
"I'm a little overwhelmed right now. I can't explain it," said "The Flying Tomato" after a tearful celebration with his parents.
Teammate Danny Kass was second but the Americans fell a podium place short of repeating their halfpipe medal sweep of 2002. Markuu Koski of Finland won bronze.
Zoeggeler sent Italy into raptures by defending his Olympic luge title at the 1,435 meter Cesana track.
Russia's Albert Demtschenko finished 0.11 seconds behind Zoeggeler for the silver, and Latvia's Martins Rubenis was another 0.247 back for the bronze — edging Tony Benshoof of the U.S. by 0.153 seconds.
In women's speedskating, Ireen Wust led a stunning Dutch 1-2 in the 3,000 meters as the heir to the Netherlands' throne Crown Prince Willem-Alexander — a keen speedskater — watched from the stands at Lingotto oval.
Wust, 19, clocked 4 minutes, 2.43 seconds at the Lingotto oval track and then anxiously watched her rivals — including favored German and Canadian skaters — as they failed to run down her time.
"When the last pair skated I had to wait and then when I saw that they were ... above my time, it was so beautiful," Wust said.
Teammate Renate Groenewald, who won silver in Salt Lake City four years ago, was second in 4:03.48. One of the pre-race favorites, Canada's Cindy Klassen, ended third.
At the normal hill ski jumping, Lars Bystoel of Norway won gold with jumps of 101.5 and 103.5 meters for a total of 266.5 points. His teammate Roar Ljoekelsoey took bronze. Matti Hautamaeki of Finland won silver.
Cross country skier Eugeni Dementiev of Russia surged from behind to overtake several opponents in the final 100 meters to win the 30-kilometer men's pursuit in 1:17:00.8.
Frode Estil of Norway recovered from a fall at the mass start to take silver and Pietro Piller Cottrer earned Italy its second bronze of the games.
Kristina Smigun of Estonia won gold in the women's 15-kilometer pursuit after World Cup leader and favorite Marit Bjorgen of Norway dropped out before the midway point of the race with a stomach problem.
Smigun overtook silver medalist Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic late in the race to win in 42:48.7. Emily Hughes, the third-place finisher at last month's U.S. national championships, will replace Kwan, who needed a medical bye onto the Turin team for a last tilt at gold.
The 25-year-old Kwan won five world championships and nine U.S. titles but always came up short at the Olympics, winning a silver medal in 1998 and a bronze in 2002.
"I have no regrets. I tried my hardest," Kwan said. "And if I don't win the gold, it's OK. I've had a great career."