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WRAPUP 3-Olympics-Swiss underdog delivers on downhill gold
* Didier Defago zooms past famous Swiss team mates
* Bode Miller is bronze comeback kid
* Swiss go top of medals table
By Mary Milliken
VANCOUVER, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A Swiss skier flew out of the shadows of his more illustrious team mates to win his country's first men's Olympic downhill title for 22 years on Monday.
Didier Defago reached the pinnacle of men's skiing at 32 years of age by flying down the winding Whistler course far faster than his nation's top dogs and pre-race favourites, Didier Cuche and Carlo Janka.
The first Alpine event of these weather-troubled Games also told a tale of redemption for another, more famous 32-year-old.
American skiing's wild child Bode Miller took the bronze medal in a much anticipated comeback, finishing close behind Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal who won the silver.
For Canada, however, the race was a reality check after the host nation's spirits soared on Sunday with its first home Olympic gold ever in the men's moguls race. The Canadian downhillers came nowhere near the podium.
The downhill on the Dave Murray piste proved that the king of ski races can be notoriously difficult to predict.
Defago, with little to show from previous Olympics, is the first Swiss to win a men's Olympic Alpine gold since 1988, when Pirmin Zurbriggen also won on the Canadian snow at Calgary.
"This morning I knew that the course would suit me well. I have been looking for a podium for a long time," said Defago over the clanking of cowbells from the slopeside crowd.
The race had been delayed two full days by slushy snow and low visibility.
Miller, who failed to medal in Turin four years ago and courted controversy with his past partying, flirted briefly with gold before Svindal and Defago pushed him down the podium.
"I was really nervous this morning," said the man who once owned American skiing. "Once I got going, I felt really, really solid."
Americans are also anxiously awaiting another turnaround from Turin in Lindsey Vonn, the favourite to win the women's downhill on Wednesday.
CANADIAN HERO HAILED
For Canada, in its zeal to "own the podium" at the Vancouver Olympics, it was as if Sunday giveth and Monday taketh away.
Local ski ace Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a downhill favourite who hoped to carry on Canada's gold momentum, lost precious ground on the lower part of the Whistler course and ended way back in the pack.
That was in sobering contrast to the glory of compatriot Alexandre Bilodeau, the 22-year-old mogul master who won Canada's first gold of the Winter Games on Sunday and the first ever for the hosts in three Olympic Games at home.
"Home Gold! The Wait Is Over," the Vancouver Sun newspaper proclaimed from its front page, echoing the collective relief of a host country that feared falling flat on the world Olympic stage.
Canada had not won a gold at either of the two Games it had previously staged in Montreal (Summer 1976) and Calgary (Winter 1988) and Day One on Saturday here had not yielded one either.
Bilodeau was the talk of a town that hankered for a hero after a difficult start to Canada's Games, most notably the horrific death of a Georgian luger in training on Friday before the official opening.
The body of Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, will be flown home later on Monday after Games organisers held a memorial service.
SNOWBOARD TAKES OFF
The weather that has also plagued the Games was looking up, with the best conditions seen since opening after spells of warm temperatures and then fog, snow and rain.
Up on Cypress Mountain, where Bilodeau was crowned on Sunday night, snowboarders walked around shirtless in the relatively warm weather, taping up ribs in preparation for the men's hot-dog snowboard cross competition.
A trio of Americans led by defending champion Seth Wescott will vie for gold on a course made mostly with snow lifted from neighbouring mountains after the warmest January on record.
France were knocked off the medals table pinnacle by Switzerland after Defago's shock win in the blue riband skiing event and a steely triumph for Dario Cologna in the men's cross country freestyle 15km race.
Making his Olympic debut, the 23-year-old showed a clean pair of skis to the heavyweight favourites to take victory and claim the third Swiss gold of the Winter Games so far.
(Editing by Miles Evans; To query or comment on this story firstname.lastname@example.org)
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