Everyone said Donna Weinbrecht was a cinch to win a gold medal for the United States. Everyone except Weinbrecht.
"After I finished second in the eliminations, I became completely focused," she said Thursday. "I'd been impressed by the other girls and knew any one of them could win. But I also suddenly realized how much I really wanted it."
She got it: The first gold medal of these Winter Olympics for a U.S. skier, and the first ever awarded in her event _ freestyle moguls.
"I hope it means as much to the country as an Alpine gold medal would," said Weinbrecht, 26, of West Milford, N.J.
To win it, she had to ski down a steep slope pocked with moguls, or bumps, in a driving snowstorm, displaying two airborne maneuvers along the way. She also had to outperform seven other finalists _ among them Raphaelle Monod, the darling of the home crowd of about 20,000.
Surprisingly, Monod had finished ahead of Weinbrecht in Wednesday's elimination round, with 24.09 points to the American's 23.48.
Thursday, with rock music on the loudspeakers, Weinbrecht bombed down the hill from bump to bump in 40.51 seconds. It was not the fastest time, but the judges thought her turns were magnificent and her aerial tricks _ a spread-eagle on top and a double near the bottom _ more than adequate. It added up to a score of 23.69.
Monod lost it about two-thirds of the way down. She came down short of a bump, twisted, and could not recover to take the next bump cleanly. After a half-hearted twister, she gave up.
Later, Nelson Carmichael captured the third U.S. medal of the Games, taking the bronze in the men's moguls behind two French skiers.