ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (AFP) - Risk-taking Austrian tyro Matthias Mayer overcame a poor upper section to storm to Olympic gold in the blue riband Winter Games event of the men's downhill on Sunday.
The 23-year-old, whose favourite discipline is the shorter speed event, the super-G, clocked 2min 06.23sec down the 3.5km-long course for the first Austrian downhill gold since Fritz Stroebl in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
Mayer, who has never won a major international downhill, also bettered his father Helmut's silver-medal showing in the super-G at the Calgary Games in 1998.
In a gripping morning's racing when the lead changed hands five times until Mayer came bombing down the slope with bib No.11, Italian Christof Innerhofer took silver at just six-hundredths of a second back.
Norway's Kjetil Jansrud claimed bronze a further 0.04sec adrift, with team-mate and world downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal in fourth and another strong favourite, Bode Miller of the United States, in eighth.
Mayer, who earlier this week had named both Svindal and the 36-year-old Miller as his "idols and role models", skied a run the American would have been proud of.
Down on two splits in the upper section of the course, which was smooth and icy in overcast conditions, Mayer nailed the tricky technical middle part which demands slick rhythmic turns to maintain speed before a gliding section favoured by the heavier racers.
Mastering the three jumps which catapault the racers 60m while travelling at speeds around 135kmh, Mayer held his line through to the end in front of a vociferous crowd packed into the purpose-built stands.
Innerhofer made advantage of his superior size and liking of icy tracks to secure a 0.58sec lead up top, but the Italian's deficit was slowly eaten away by the time he came screaming through the finish line, just hundredths of a second away from the ultimate Winter Games glory.
For Svindal and Miller, who each claimed a gold, silver and bronze at the Vancouver Games in 2010, there was disappointment.
"I feel disappointed. I skied hard and well, and that's the most important thing. It just didn't go all right," said Miller, racing in his record fifth Olympics.
"I'm not really sure what went wrong. The visibility is different today and that's the only disadvantage I had. But it's something I face all the time. If the visibility is really good I can ski my best; if it isn't, I can't.
"I wanted to ski the course as hard as I could and not really back off, but it requires a lot of tactics today which I didn't apply."