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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moe Seizes First U.S. Gold

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- U.S. skier Tommy Moe seized the downhill gold medal, the top glamour prize of the Winter Olympics, with a nerveless run down the icy slopes of Kvitfjell.

It was the first time in a decade and only the second in Olympic history that an American won the coveted downhill gold.

The 23-year-old Alaskan sped down the steep, 3.2-kilometer-long, sunlit Olympic course Sunday in a style just reckless enough to forge his first win in world competition.

When Moe climbed onto the medal stand on Sunday night he stood redeemed after a rocky adolescence. He was dismissed from the national junior team at 13 for smoking marijuana and put on team probation when he was 16. But his patchy record was all due to childhood "experimentation," said Moe.

His time of 1 minute 45.75 seconds -- four-hundredths of a second faster than Norwegian silver medalist Kjetil Andre Aamodt -- brought the United States its first medal of the 17th Winter Games on the first full day of competition.

Moe's first win on the world stage could not have come at a better time. The Olympic downhill "is the biggest thing in skiing," said U.S. alpine coach Paul Major. "Tommy's the best skier in the world."

But not by much. The American was just a half-ski-length faster than the smooth-sliding home-town favorite Aamodt, whom he followed to the starting gate.

Both had waited nervously on the frosty mountaintop for the course to be cleared after Canadian Cary Mullen skittered off a turn and into the safety netting halfway down.

Aamodt, who stamped his boots and donned a blanket for warmth, was asked later if the delay rattled him at all.

"Oh," he chuckled, scratching his chin sagely, "I don't think I lost more than five-hundredths of a second because of it." That was the difference between silver and gold in Sunday's race.

Indeed, after his splendid run, thousands of flag-waving Norwegians in the crowd of 30,000 at the base of the run were confident they had the winner. Aamodt's time was best of the day at that juncture by a full three-tenths of a second.

Their cheers were still echoing when Moe poled out of the gate into brilliant, chilly sunshine, and they grew louder when the American's first split-time popped up on the scoreboard. Moe was 19/100ths of a second slower than Aamodt on the tricky, steep turns at the top.

But the intrepid Alaskan, who navigates wild white-water rivers in kayaks when he isn't training for the ski slopes, had speed and courage left in the bank.

"The split times showed me fourth after the top, but I carried good speed onto the flats after the jumps," he said.

Moe conceded that "on the last jump I went at it too hard. I landed at the very bottom (of the landing area) and I thought, 'There's no way you're going to pull this off.'"

But pull it off he did as his parents, who had barely arrived in time to see, danced circles on the sidelines.

Moe has the chance to add more lucre to Sunday's medal haul in the Super G and combined downhill events. The combined downhill plays out over two days, and is a combination of times from one downhill run and one slalom run.

The downhill half is scheduled for Monday at Kvitfjell, but overall winners will not be decided until the slalom half of the two-edged event takes place on Feb. 25 at a tamer course at Hafjell.

Moe's father, Tom, a building contractor in the Alaskan outback, said he and his wife, Tyra, spent 46 hours en route to Norway after air traffic was routed out of New York because of bad weather. They got into Lillehammer at 9:30 Saturday night and had to force their way onto a bus for the 30-mile trip north to the slopes this morning.