By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - American Julia Mancuso threw down the gauntlet to reigning Olympic super combined champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch with the quickest downhill run on Monday.
With the slalom part of the event still to come, Mancuso put 1.04 seconds between herself and her German rival for the first women's Alpine skiing title at the Sochi Games with an impressive descent down a sunlit Rosa Khutor piste.
Hoefl-Riesch, who beat Mancuso to gold in Vancouver four years ago, was only fifth quickest after the downhill leg.
The German will still be hopeful of mounting a charge for gold later in the slalom leg, although with the likes of Swiss Lara Gut and Slovenian all-rounder Tina Maze also having gained time on her in the downhill she will have her work cut out.
The experienced Mancuso, who won Olympic gold in giant slalom in 2006, celebrated as if she had already won the title after clocking 1:42.68.
Gut was 0.47 seconds slower with Maze 0.86 seconds behind the leader. Austria's Anna Fenninger is in fourth spot.
Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather, one of the favorites for the title, did not start because of a leg injury that could also rule her out of Wednesday's women's downhill.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)