Austrian Elisabeth Goergl won the women's super-G in the opening race of the world championships on Tuesday, mastering a difficult, icy course that produced several crashes.
American Julia Mancuso earned the silver and German Maria Riesch was third. Defending champion Lindsey Vonn of the United States started despite a concussion last week and finished seventh.
Top Canadian was Britt Janyk of Whistler, B.C., in 15th.
Goergl sang the official song of the championships at the opening ceremony Monday and then blazed down the Kandahar course to beat Mancuso by .05 seconds.
"I looked at the board and I saw that it was a fast time," the Austrian said after winning her first major title. "It was a good run. ... You have to be aggressive and attack this course and I did what I'd planned to do.
The Austrian covered the 2,180-metre course in one minute 23.82 seconds. Riesch was third in 1:24.03.
"I like such conditions because I can put on the pressure," said Goergl, who was the bronze medallist in the downhill and the giant slalom at last year's Olympics. "I did nearly everything right, except for some small mistakes at one or two gates. I wasn't nervous at the start and I wasn't nervous during my singing, but I was tense at the finish waiting for the others to come down."
The championship had been billed as a showdown between Riesch and three-time overall World Cup champion Vonn, but Goergl stole the show on opening day with a nearly flawless performance.
Mancuso added another silver to her collection —she was silver medallist in the downhill and the super combined at last year's Olympics and giant slalom champion four years earlier. She also had a super combined silver at the 2007 worlds, plus bronze medals in the giant slalom and super-G in 2005.
Vonn hit her head in a fall six days ago in practice and had been uncertain to race because she had trouble keeping her focus in the lower sections of the course.
On Tuesday, she was not the same racer that had made the podium in her last 19 super-G races, winning 13 of them.
"It's easy to accept because it wasn't me out there," Vonn told German television, speaking German. "My head wasn't there. I was not aggressive. It wasn't a good run."
Vonn, who is the Olympic downhill champion, sharply criticized the course on the eve of the race, calling it unsafe.
"It's very dangerous. It wasn't so icy as yesterday but you don't have any grip at the bottom," she said.
Janyk said she turned in a good effort.
"It's a tough hill but I like it," she said. "The conditions were nothing like we have seen so far this year, it's really icy and bumpy but because of the warm conditions the organizers had to make it that way."
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was 22nd and Marie-Pierre Prefontaine of Saint-Sauveur, Que., was 24th.
Several skiers crashed, including Olympic super-G champion Andrea Fischbacher of Austria, who slid down the icy slope for several hundred metres after clipping a gate, her skis flying off into the air. She went through one safety net and stopped in the second. Austrian team officials said she was unhurt.
Gina Stechert of Germany also crashed and will have surgery on a broken thumb.
Riesch, the overall World Cup leader who is racing in her hometown on the slope she got to know as a child, was ahead of her rival and good friend Vonn.
"I think I was more nervous during her run then during my own," Riesch said.
Riesch was worried that Vonn would bump her from a medal place, but the American wasn't close.
"Now, some of the pressure is off since I already got a medal in my first race. It's a big relief," Riesch said. "This is a great start, and thanks to the fans. There was a lot of pressure before the event. The course is really hard to race. I am so happy that I managed such a great run."