Remarkably, Tina Maze of Slovenia and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin both clocked 1 minute, 41.57 seconds down the 1.7-mile course under brilliant blue skies. It was the first tie for gold in Olympic history, though there have been ties for other medals, most recently for silver in the men's super-G at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Maze and Gisin held hands as they awaited the post-race flower ceremony, then ascended the podium together and waved to the crowd.
Both will receive gold medals.
While Maze is the reigning world champion in the super-G with 23 career World Cup wins and nine Olympic or world championship medals, Gisin has won only three World Cup races in her career, and none in almost four years. She wept in the finish area as skier after skier came down the hill, unable to match her time.
"This is incredible," she said. "I am overwhelmed with emotions. I am so happy what a day. I don't think I even dreamt about this. Now that I have won, I am living the dream, but this is better than dreaming."
Switzerland's Lara Gut was third for bronze, while most of the other favorites like Mancuso were never in the hunt.
Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the super combined winner and three-time Olympic champion, was ninth after just 20 racers and finished 13th. Austria's Anna Fenninger slid out after leading at the first time check. And Mancuso already was off the podium in fourth by the time she reached the finish line as the 12th starter out of the gate.
"I definitely had a plan of attacking and I was thinking of attacking," she said. "But it felt like after I caught all that air [off the first jump], it kind of made me back off a little because I knew the speeds were higher and I knew that it would feel faster. So instead of trying to go faster, I was kind of waiting, and that was definitely my downfall."
It was another painful reminder for the U.S. Ski Team that expectations don't always equal success in the capricious world of ski racing.
Five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller was widely expected to contend in the men's downhill after dominating the training sessions, but he wound up a disappointing eighth.
Now Mancuso, a graduate of the Winter Sports School in Park City, will have to wait for the super-G on Saturday for another chance at a medal, and the Americans will have to do without the sparking downhill performance they enjoyed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Lindsey Vonn and Mancuso won gold and silver and Miller took bronze.
The results followed closer to the way the American women have struggled on the World Cup season this year, with Vonn out with a knee injury. None of them finished in the top 10 of a downhill until the final stop before the Olympics in Italy, where Stacey Cook and Mancuso each did so in back-to-back races.
But Cook was 17th on Wednesday, behind Laurenne Ross in 11th. Jacqueline Wiles, a Westminster College student who lives in Park City, was 26th.
"We all held onto belief for so long," Cook said, "and it just couldn't be enough."