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Sunday, February 10, 2002
 
Eberharter: 'I was never assured to win the gold'

Associated Press


SNOWBASIN, Utah -- Putting on a brave face and a smile, World Cup downhill champion Stephan Eberharter insisted Olympic bronze was just dandy.

After winning five of the eight World Cup downhills this season, the Austrian had entered the Olympics' showcase Alpine event as the favorite, with his nation's high expectations heavy on his shoulders.

The new star of the Austrian squad seemed poised to live up to the ski-crazy nation's hopes on Sunday, sending a large contingent of flag-waving fans into a wild frenzy when he lit up the top of the scoreboard in 1 minute, 39.41 seconds.

But Eberharter's lifelong dream of Olympic downhill glory lasted only a moment, as teammate Fritz Strobl sped across the finish line less than two minutes later, edging him by 28 hundredths of a second to take Olympic gold and bask in the adoration only Austrian ski fans can lavish.

Moments later, Norway's Lasse Kjus dropped Eberharter from second to third, squeezing between the two Austrians with his run of 1:39.35.

"It might be a problem for others not to win gold, but it isn't for me," said Eberharter, who leads the World Cup overall standings this season on the strength of five downhill victories, three in the super giant slalom and one in the more technical giant slalom.

"I've always said this situation can happen, I was never assured to win the gold. I was prepared for this," he added. "Sure it would have been great to win gold but this is a great start for me and I have two more chances to win gold or collect other medals in the giant slalom and Super G."

The 32-year-old Eberharter also was quick to remind everyone of his new World Cup downhill title, which actually is considered a bigger achievement by skiers, requiring consistent success over an entire season.

"I mustn't forget this season, which has been tremendous," Eberharter said. "I've won nine races so far, I've won the World Cup downhill title and hopefully I'll win the overall.

"I always believed in myself but honestly I never believed to be that good in the downhill. But last year I started to do pretty well and this year was great."

A victory, though, would have silenced critics who insist Eberharter's success is largely due to the absence of injured teammate Hermann Maier.

"I didn't feel any pressure, even though I knew everyone expected me to win the gold medal, especially back home," said Eberharter, who finished last season as runner-up in the overall and downhill World Cup standings to Maier. "I was prepared for this. I had a good night and a good morning, and a good bronze medal race."