WHISTLER, British Columbia (SI.com) -- Lindsey Vonn has spent the past four years growing into the best women's ski racer in U.S. history.

Now she can call herself a gold medalist as well.

Vonn won the women's downhill Wednesday with a daring and spectacular run at Whistler Creekside. Her winning time of one minute, 44.19 seconds makes her the first American woman to earn gold in an Olympic downhill.

"I was so nervous and so happy that I made it down," said Vonn, fighting back tears. "This is the best day of my life. It's awesome."

Teammate Julia Mancuso held the early lead with a time of 1:44.75, and finished second. She and Mancuso become the third Americans to finish 1-2 in a downhill event. Austrian Elisabeth Goergl took the bronze, 1.46 seconds behind Vonn with a time of 1:45.65.

Sweden's Anja Pärson did not finish the race following a crash and Germany's Maria Riesch finished a disappointing eighth, 2:07 behind. They were considered the pre-race favorites along with the Americans.

Four years ago, Vonn limped to the start of the Olympic Downhill in Turin, Italy, deeply in pain from a terrifying training crash that left her lower back and hip bruised and sore. She skied anyway, and finished a game but disappointed eighth. Four years later, her time arrived.

This was Vonn 's first race since she clinched the World Cup super-G title with a win on Jan. 31; she suffered a shin injury Feb. 2 during a pre-Olympic practice run. She didn't ski for over a week to help her shin recover and was aided even more when weather cancelled most official training sessions in Vancouver.

For a minute-by-minute account of Vonn's historic day, see below:

UPDATE: 3:38 p.m. -- With 13 skiers still yet to go, the Associated Press is calling the race for Vonn.

UPDATE: 3:34 p.m. -- With 30 of 45 skiers having gone, Lindsey Vonn's time still stands as the best. Vonn has been receiving congratulatory hugs from fellow skiers at the bottom of the mountain.

UPDATE: 3:21 p.m. -- If the results stand, according to SI.com's Tim Layden, it will be the first women's downhill gold for the U.S. and the third 1-2 finish in Alpine racing.

UPDATE: 3:18 p.m. -- WIth 22 skiers left and all of the favorites having gone, Lindsey Vonn is the likely gold medalist in the women's downhill, with Julia Mancuso getting silver. A huge day for Americans.

UPDATE: 3:16 p.m. -- One of the best downhillers in the world, Riesch had a very poor run. She sits in eighth place, 2.07 behind Vonn.

UPDATE: 3:11 p.m. -- Paerson flew 60 meters in the air in her crash, according to CTV. She did walk off the course. From SI.com's Tim Layden: "Paerson's digger was horrible, but she made an amazing save to get her left ski back under her or it could have been catastrophic." Maria Riesch of Germany, second to Vonn in the World Cup downhill, is about to go.

UPDATE: 3:08 p.m. -- SI.com's Tim Layden, who has reported on Lindsey Vonn for close to a decade, had this to say about her run: "One of the great clutch runs in Olympic history. ...

"Several skiers had come through the interview mixed zone and called Julia Mancuso's run perfect. ...

"Vonn not only skied brilliantly but endured almost 15 minutes in delays from crashes and TV timeouts."

UPDATE: 3:06 p.m. -- Sweden's Anja Paerson suffered a spectacular crash on the final jump. She was on track for silver before she went down.

UPDATE: 3:03 p.m. -- France's Marion Rolland just crashed right out of the gate. Anja Paerson, a major contender, is next. The race will come down to the next five minutes.

UPDATE: 2:57 p.m. -- Lindsey Vonn's biggest rivals, Sweden's Anja Paerson and Germany's Maria Riesch, will ski within minutes. They are the only two skiers with a realistic chance of passing the Americans.

UPDATE: 2:54 p.m. -- Vonn had a spectacular run, skiing with purpose and blinding speed. She finished 0.56 ahead of fellow American Julia Mancuso and upon conclusion of the race, fell to the ground in celebration, screaming for joy.

UPDATE: 2:52 p.m. -- Lindsey Vonn turned in a huge run of 1:44.19. Vonn now leads.

UPDATE: 2:48 p.m. -- Current order: Julia Mancuso of the U.S. is in first (1:44.75), Elisabeth Georgl of Austria is second (+0.90) and Andrea Fischbacher (+0.93) of Austria is third through 15 skiers.

UPDATE: 2:47 p.m. -- One skier to go before Vonn.

UPDATE: 2:41 p.m. -- Italian Daniela Merighetti, the 13th skier, just crashed and did not finish. She is the third skier to tumble, with two earning DNFs.

UPDATE: 2:38 p.m. -- SI.com's staff at Whistler reports that skiers are having problems off some jumps and it might be because of the lack of training runs. The track is hard and fast.

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m. -- Gisin just limped off the course. No. 12 skier now in the gate. Vonn goes 16th.

UPDATE: 2:26 p.m. -- The 11th skier, Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, took a nasty spill during her run. Medics are now attending to her on the slopes.

UPDATE: 2:22 p.m. -- After 10 of 45 skiers, Julia Mancuso of the U.S. sits in first place with a time of 1:44.75. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria is second (+0.90) and Canada's Britt Janyk is third (+1.46).

UPDATE: 2:15 p.m. -- Elisabeth Goergl of Austria now leads with a time of 1:45.56.

UPDATE: 2:12 p.m. -- Cook leads after four skiers. There are 45 skiers total. Vonn goes 16th.

UPDATE: 2:10 p.m. -- The first U.S. skier, Stacey Cook, is on the course.

UPDATE: 2:03 p.m. -- Klara Krizova of the Czech Republic, the first racer on the course, crashed during her run, but got up and finished.

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