Defago strikes downhill gold

By Alan Baldwin

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Didier Defago, the 'Other Didier' in the Swiss team, eclipsed his more-fancied compatriots to strike Olympic gold in Alpine skiing's showcase men's downhill on Monday.

The 32-year-old, who had failed to crack the top 20 in two previous Olympic downhills, blasted down the hill with a winning time of one minute 54.31 seconds to become the first Swiss winner in 22 years.

Norway's 2009 overall World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal took the silver medal, 0.07 seconds slower, and American showman Bode Miller ripped down the gleaming Dave Murray piste for bronze as the favorites were again overshadowed in the sport's most prestigious race.

"It hasn't sunk in yet. You had to really fight on that piste, it was pretty bouncy. It was really a beautiful run," the 32-year-old told reporters after seizing his first Olympic medal in his third Games.

"This morning I knew that the course would suit me well. I have been looking for a podium for a long time," he added against a backdrop of clanging cowbells. Cuche finished sixth, Janka 11th.

MILLER'S BACK

Starting 18th, and two places after Svindal had ousted Miller from the gold medal position by 0.02, Defago made no mistakes.

Miller's bronze cemented his comeback at the age of 32, making up for his failure to win a medal in Turin four years ago when he was over-hyped and under-performing and adding to the two silvers he won in Salt Lake City in 2002.

"I was really nervous this morning," said the American, who used an older pair of skis which ran well at the top but less so at the bottom. "Once I got going, I felt really, really solid."

The hopes of Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis, cheered on by a boisterous home crowd in the Whistler sunshine, disappeared on the lower part of the piste and team mate Robbie Dixon crashed out after a wild start.

"Going across the flats, I knew I didn't have the speed I needed," said Osborne-Paradis.

There was also disappointment for Austria's Michael Walchhofer, runner-up in Turin four years ago, who was 10th.

In an alarming incident late in the race, a course worker slid onto the piste as Australian Craig Branch went past her toward the finish.

There was no defending Olympic champion, with France's Antoine Deneriaz retiring since his surprise gold in 2006 and world champion John Kucera of Canada was absent due to injury.

Monday's race had been postponed from Saturday due to fog and high temperatures. Skiers awoke on Monday to crisp conditions and clear skies.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)