Antoine Deneriaz came with a late charge to claim a surprise gold in the men's downhill - the alpine blue riband event at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Deneriaz raced to his first Olympic medal in Italy
The Frenchman, 30th down the Sestriere slope, clocked one minute 48.80 to push Austrian leader Michael Walchhofer into silver with Swiss Bruno Kernen third.
American favourites Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves and defending champion Fritz Strobl were out of the medals.
Briton Finlay Mickel finished 25th with team-mate Roger Cruickshank 37th.
Deneriaz has won three World Cup races but had never done better than eighth in a world championships or Olympic Games.
The 29-year-old's career looked to be over when he suffered a horrific crash in Chamonix 12 months ago but he was determined to battle back.
He had hinted at what was to come by finishing quickest in the final training run.
"I've been thinking of nothing else for the past year," said Deneriaz. "It's incredible, I'm Olympic champion.
"I needed time to recover, day-by-day, race-by-race but I was so sure I could do it that I had already ordered the champagne."
Miller, who is entered in all five alpine competitions in Italy, finished fifth with Rahlves 10th.
Norwegian legend Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway narrowly missed out on an eighth Olympic medal in fourth.
Strobl finished eighth after an aggressive run, with Austrian team-mate Hermann Maier sixth.
Mickel came home in 1.51:48 on his Olympic debut.
The Scot had been aiming to better Martin Bell's eighth place finish in Calgary, which remain the best ever performance by a British male skier in the Games.
"It was a good ski but I wanted to have my best performance of the season here and it wasn't," the 27-year-old told BBC Sport.
"I lost a lot of time at the top and wasn't as clean as I wanted. I landed hard and tweaked my back a bit too.
"I was excited being at the Olympics and I was really up for the race so I would have liked to have done better."
Cruickshank, an RAF pilot from Fife, clocked 1:54.65 in Sestriere and was pleased to be back in action after suffering a bad crash last March.
The 23-year-old had to compete wearing a leg brace as he continues to recover from knee surgery.
"It's been a tough old year for me and I'm just so happy to be here," Cruickshank told BBC Sport.
"It's a fantastic experience coming down an Olympic downhill, flying into that finish.
"My knee has been giving me some bother, it's just been a matter of pushing through that."