GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Tina Maze waited a long time for her gold medal. Slovenia, too.
Maze became the first athlete from her country to win an Alpine skiing gold medal at a world championships or Olympics, following three silvers for the 27-year-old.
"I had enough silver by now," Maze said after her giant slalom victory at worlds Thursday.
The only other Slovenian to win Alpine gold was Mateja Svet in slalom at the 1989 worlds in Vail, Colorado -- although Slovenia was still part of the former Yugoslavia then.
"We've always had good athletes, but nobody could grab gold," Maze said. "I'm sure a lot of people will be very happy. It shows that even if we're a small country we can be on top."
Maze won silver in the super-combined last week and also finished second in the super-G and giant slalom at last year's Vancouver Olympics. In Whistler, she was only 0.04 seconds behind German winner Viktoria Rebensburg.
"I've been so close before -- I've lost by a few hundredths -- and today it worked out for me," said Maze, who celebrated by performing cartwheels in the finish area. "Gold is a nice color."
Even before those silvers, Maze had been a regular contender on the World Cup circuit for years, posting her first win, in GS, way back in 2002. At the 2003 worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland, she finished fifth in GS.
"GS was my first discipline, so I have a lot of experience in it and I know I can ski well and finally it worked out," she said.
With the start of the race delayed for two hours by fog and low visibility, Maze's win was constructed around her blazing opening run, helped by being the first skier on a deteriorating course. Then she held on to her lead through the second leg, winning by 0.09 seconds ahead of Federica Brignone of Italy, and 0.48 in front of Tessa Worley of France.
"Tina is always a great big-event competitor and she stepped it up again today," said Julia Mancuso, the top American finisher in 16th.
Mancuso, who won gold in GS at the 2006 Turin Olympics, struggled with the soft conditions.
"I've been training a lot on hard snow and just wasn't able to connect," she said.
"I was disappointed with my time first run because I felt like I skied better. But second run I definitely went too straight because I was too fired up, because at world champs it's all or nothing, so sometimes you get nothing," said Mancuso, who was 12th in the opening run.
The other American finishers were Sarah Schleper in 21st and Megan McJames in 34th. With Lindsey Vonn having pulled out of worlds to rest her injured head, the U.S. team used only three of its four starting positions.
Mancuso opened the worlds with a silver in super-G, but has struggled in her other events.
"Not everything always goes your way, so it's kind of 'Take what has gone my way,' which is the super-G, so I'm excited about that," she said, adding she's treating Saturday's slalom -- her weakest event -- as training.
"I'm not a medal contender, but I'm going to do my best," she said.
Brignone, the daughter of former World Cup winner Maria Rosa Quario, came into the race with only two podium finishes in her career. But one of them was a second place in the final giant slalom before the worlds, 10 days ago in Zwiesel.
She was inspired by teammate Christof Innerhofer's three medals.
"After the first run I just decided to risk everything and start over from zero and that helped me, because that's how it works at the world championships -- either you win everything or you lose everything," she said.
Worley jumped from 19th to third. Winner of three of five giant slalom races in the World Cup this season, Worley was considered the favorite, but finished 2.12 seconds behind Maze in the first run.
"After the first leg, I struggled to believe I could do it. But I thought only about my skiing, and I told myself, 'Go flat out, it's the world championships, you have got nothing at all to lose," Worley said. "I just wanted to go for it, and it really paid off. I didn't think it would be enough for a medal, I thought I would be top 10, then top 5 ... It's super."
Denise Karbon of Italy was fourth. Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg was fifth and her German teammate and local favorite Maria Riesch skied out in the second run.
Swedish standout Anja Paerson finished ninth, failing in her bid to match the Alpine skiing record of 20 medals at worlds and Olympics held by Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.
Paerson isn't sure whether she'll still be skiing at the next worlds in Schladming, Austria, in 2013.
"I don't know, we'll have to see," she said.