Riesch - Germany's comeback kid

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The achievement brought a broad smile, but tears then trickled down the cheeks of Maria Riesch as she finally became Germany's Olympic golden girl on Thursday.

It was something she had dreamed about since taking up skiing aged just three.

The 25-year-old stormed to victory in the women's super-combined at Whistler after downhill champ Lindsey Vonn crashed out in a slalom having dominated the first leg downhill with a 0.33sec margin.

"Now I belong to the gold Olympians and that is really something very special," said Riesch, who placed a disappointing eighth in Wednesday's downhill, which Vonn won.

"It's a huge achievement because the expectations were so huge. It's a strong comeback.

"After that disappointing downhill I knew I just had to give it everything I'd got today," added the tall blonde, whose relationship with Vonn is so close they have spent Christmas holidays together.

"For winning a gold medal everything must be perfect, and everything was perfect today."

The dream had been with Riesch since she joined the local ski club at Garmisch in her home region of Bavaria, closely followed by younger sister and fellow top racer Susanna.

Riesch, dubbed the "comeback kid" by German media, never knows when she's down.

Unlike Vonn, Riesch, who first scored World Cup points aged just 16, knows just what it's like to suffer a career-threatening injury.

She was forced to miss Turin 2006 after tearing cruciate knee ligaments, and was out for nearly two seasons.

Just before the 2009 world championships, she hurt her spine and left knee in a fall in training, but bounced back to win the slalom title.

But she has a dogged fighter's motto: "It's not how often you fall down that counts, but how often you get up again."

While a technical and bumpy downhill saw a swathe of crashes - including the two racers immediately before Riesch, Thursday's race was another story entirely as she finished 0.94 sec ahead of US silver winner Julia Mancuso.

"I knew I was on the money today, unlike yesterday, when I was really nervous," she said. "I felt an inner calm."

Riesch joins Christl Cranz (1936) and Katja Seizinger (1998) as German women's combined champions.

It was also Germany's first alpine gold since Nagano in 1998 when Hilde Gerg won the slalom and Seizinger won the downhill and led a German clean sweep of the combined.

She wobbled on the downhill but then it was Vonn's turn to suffer as the American crashed in the slalom.

"I felt bad for her because she missed a medal (but) she has another chance for a medal in two days in the Super G," smiled Riesch, now level in the gold stakes with her friend and rival.

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