Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist
Correction to This Article
The newspaper version of Tracee Hamilton's column incorrectly said that U.S. speed skater Shani Davis became the first black athlete to win an individual Olympic gold medal during the Turin Games in 2006. Davis was the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at a winter Olympics. The first black winner of an individual gold medal was U.S. long jumper William DeHart Hubbard, at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. The correction has been made to this version.

Lindsey Vonn leads record-setting day for U.S. in Winter Olympics

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
Thursday, February 18, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. It was a day of great expectations for the U.S. Olympic team; you might call it a dickens of a day. Though officials would never admit it, they must have penciled in "three gold medals" on their calendars for Feb. 17.

Skier Lindsey Vonn won hers in the glamorous and treacherous downhill. Speed skater Shani Davis took his in the elegant and traditional long track. And snowboarder Shaun White capped the record-breaking day in the wild and woolly halfpipe.

Medals at the Winter Olympics can be slippery little suckers. A fraction of a second, a ski catching an edge or a blade hitting a bad patch, and your chance is gone for four long years. But the surprise Wednesday was not so much that these three American stars met expectations, but that three others exceeded them, winning three more medals to give the U.S. team a one-day, Winter Olympic-record six medals. The previous mark of five (three golds, one silver, one bronze) was set on Feb. 20, 2002, in Salt Lake City.

"I'm proud to be an American" said Chad Hedrick, who finished two spots behind Davis to win the bronze in the 1,000-meter speedskating. "We have six medals in three different sports. It's an unbelievable feat, and for me to be a part of it is an honor. . . . I look for the whole U.S. team to come through and do special things."

The trouble with expectations: They often come with a side order of pressure. But Wednesday, the gold medals won by Vonn, Davis and White came with very different garnishes: a silver in the downhill, bronze in speed skating and halfpipe.

The hopes of a nation often sneak into an Olympic athlete's carry-on bag, and they can become either additional burdens or motivations. Skier Bode Miller struggled with that in Turin in 2006, when he failed to medal. Two years ago, Michael Phelps hid that pressure somewhere in his body suit and stroked his way to eight gold medals.

Of Wednesday's three gold medalists, Vonn's ride seemed likely to be the bumpiest, given the deep shin bruise she suffered on Feb. 2 while training. But it's hard for the pressure to hang on when you're careening down the side of a mountain at speeds approaching 70 mph in 1 minute 44.19 seconds. When she reached the bottom of Franz's course at Whistler Creekside resort, Vonn lay on her back in the snow and raised both fists in the air.

"I can't stop crying," said Vonn, whose victory was the first by an American woman in the event. "This is everything I ever wanted and hoped for. I had a lot of ups and downs in my career. Standing here today at the finish and to win is amazing."

Just as amazing was teammate Julia Mancuso's surprising silver medal. Americans have finished 1-2 in an Olympic Alpine event just three times, the last in Sarajevo in 1984, just weeks before Mancuso was born. The duo crushed the field -- Vonn won by nearly half a second, and Mancuso beat bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl of Austria by nearly a second.

Vonn and Mancuso were still celebrating when Davis met his own set of expectations, becoming the first U.S. male to successfully defend his Olympic title. Davis, who in Turin became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at a Winter Olympics, is the world record holder and has won every World Cup race at the distance this season.

"It's always nice to go out there and do it again," said a jubilant Davis, who won by 0.18 seconds over silver medalist Mo Tae-Bum of South Korea. "Four years ago I was on the offensive and now I find myself on the defensive."

Filling the Mancuso role at the Richmond Olympic Oval was Hedrick, 32, who snuck onto the podium to grab the bronze. In fact, all four U.S. skaters finished in the top 10.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company