Sunday, February 10, 2002
Strobl pulls off upset; favorite Eberharter third
SNOWBASIN, Utah -- That an Austrian won the men's downhill
was no surprise. That this Austrian won was the shocker.
Stephan Eberharter was supposed to win gold in the absence of Austrian favorite Hermann Maier.
Fritz Strobl, a part-time cop with no catchy nickname like the
Herminator, raced down the dizzyingly steep 1.9-mile Grizzly course
Sunday in less time than it takes to boil water.
His daredevil ride over, Strobl stared at the scoreboard and
raised his arms in triumph when he saw his time and realized he had
beaten heavily favored teammate Stephan Eberharter, who finished
"It's sensational. I didn't expect it," said Strobl, who
grabbed a cell phone to call his wife and two young sons in Austria
with the news. "I was just thinking of racing down the course, not
The lanky Strobl finished in 1 minute, 39.13 seconds to become
the sixth Austrian to win the downhill in the 15 races since Alpine
skiing made its Olympic debut in 1948.
The race was a bust for Daron Rahlves, America's best medal hope
who boasted Saturday that he'd knock off the favored Austrians. He
finished 16th, trailing less-heralded teammate Marco Sullivan by
"It's a tough one to swallow. I'm still kind of in a daze right
now," said Rahlves, the reigning world champion in super giant
slalom. "It was just a very poor performance. The good thing is
I've still got the Super G coming up on Saturday."
Lasse Kjus of Norway finished second for his fourth Olympic
medal, matching his downhill silver medal from 1998. He was a fifth
of a second behind Strobl. Eberharter was six-hundredths of a
second behind Kjus.
"I have not failed. Many racers don't have a medal. It was not
the best run, but it was not the worst. It was a bronze run,"
Strobl, known as "Friz the Cat," never seemed to struggle on a
bear of a course that featured dazzling drops and extremely tight
turns. Even Eberharter said it reminded him of a roller coaster:
"You have a lot of up and downs, left and rights."
From the top of the course, exactly 9,289 feet above sea level
on Mount Ogden, skiers gazed at the skyline of Salt Lake City about
35 miles away -- and anti-terrorism snipers surveyed the action.
Injected with water to make it icier and faster, Grizzly begins
with a 74-degree jump -- akin to falling off the side of a cliff --
and includes a spot where racers fly almost 150 feet in the air.
Amazingly, not a single skier failed to finish the course
despite speeds of more than 80 mph. Frenchman Pierre-Emmanuel
Dalcin crossed the finish line with one ski -- after losing the
other one on the way down.
Racers were cheered at the bottom of the course by flag-waving,
cowbell-ringing fans, many of whom arrived after the start of the
race because of massive traffic backups leading to the ski area.
Some fans who paid up to $95 per ticket did not arrive until an
hour after the start of the race, long after the top skiers had
finished and the medals were decided.
Eberharter made a few mistakes in the middle of the course,
spraying snow in the air as his skis bobbled a bit on the icy
slope. By contrast, Strobl hardly seemed to leave a trace as his
skis bit into the snow.
Even without the injured Herman Maier, the popular Herminator,
Austria dominated the event, as usual -- with three skiers among the
top six finishers.
Eberharter, skiing ninth, got a fast start, but had trouble
controlling his skis halfway down the course. His time was the best
up to that point, but his lead did not last long.
Strobl was up next, and when his time was posted, Eberharter was
stone-faced. Three skiers later, Kjus sped past Eberharter into
"It was not really my race. I made two or three small mistakes,
in particular coming into the final wall," said Eberharter, who
remains the favorite for the Super G and is a medal contender in
the giant slalom.
The laid-back Strobl, who hopes to run his parents' farm when he
retires, said he does not expect the Olympic title to change his
"This is just sensational. But life was beautiful before this
and it will continue to be beautiful," he said. "Things won't