Antoine Deneriaz claimed he never lost the belief that he would be crowned Olympic champion after recovering from a torn knee ligament to blaze to men’s downhill glory in Sestriere.
Deneriaz had to be helicoptered off the mountain last January after an appalling crash during a training run at Chamonix which left his skiing future in doubt.
But the Frenchman stormed back to destroy his leading rivals and claim the gold medal with a massive 0.72-second advantage over Austrian Michael Walchhofer, with Swiss Bruno Kernen third.
Deneriaz said: “When I was carried by helicopter I tried not to be too dramatic. I thought the Olympics are only every four years and I am still going to make it.
“When I was at the start I said to myself: ‘Do it, you have to attack.’ When I arrived at the finish line and saw my time I thought it was incredible.”
Racing from a start gate of 30 and without a World Cup downhill win for over two years, few gave Deneriaz a chance of gold despite finishing fastest in the final training run on Saturday.
But while fancied Americans Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves failed to beat the early time set by Walchhofer, Deneriaz was over half a second up by the halfway stage.
World Cup leader Walchhofer said: “I was disappointed but then I understood that Deneriaz had a dream run. After two minutes I was extremely happy because it was a hugely difficult race.”
Deneriaz’s late surge denied Norwegian veteran Kjetil Andre Aamodt a record eighth Olympic medal as he dropped to fourth with Miller having to be content with fifth.
Michelle Kwan’s search for an elusive figure skating gold medal ended when she was forced to pull out of the competition.
The five-times world champion suffered the injury in training on Saturday and was forced out after tests by the team doctor.
Kwan claimed a silver medal in Nagano in 1998 and bronze in Salt Lake City four years later. She will be replaced by Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 gold medallist Sarah Hughes.