Thursday, February 21, 2002
Updated: February 22, 9:23 PM ET
Eberharter puts the Herminator behind him
By Anne Marie Cruz
ESPN The Magazine
PARK CITY, Utah -- As far as Stephan Eberharter is concerned, someone else can catch his bouquets now.
Once Hermann Maier's pet bridesmaid, Eberharter wrought pure gold out of the steep, icy giant slalom course of CB's Run. After he glided past the finish line in first, Eberharter toppled over, lying on the snow as he slowly soaked in the enormity of what he had just done.
He'd finally gotten the Herminator off his back.
Since Nagano, Eberharter played second banana to Maier, finishing second to him a dozen times, including the '98 Olympic giant slalom, the '99 World Cup Super-G standings and the '01 overall rankings. Even during these Games, with the Herminator absent, recuperating in Austria from a motorcycle spill, Eberharter found himself on the wrong step of the podium.
"I expected to win the gold in Super G or downhill," he said.
Instead, he had to settle for silver and bronze.
"Over the past couple days, I thought, I've been well-served here," he said. "I had two medals already. So this morning, I knew it was my last Olympic race and my last chance for gold. But I felt no pressure. I didn't expect anything here because giant slalom is much more difficult for me."
With the pressure off, Eberharter tore down the fall lines, aggressively attacking each gate. After the first run, he led the field by .74 second, and ended up winning by .88 of a second -- that's eternity squared in alpine racing -- ahead of the world's best. At the flower ceremony, Eberharter wore a look of serene satisfaction, taking his victory in stride.
A torn ACL, battered knees, unfulfilled potential, and even a demotion from the Austrian A team had once been the Austrian's legacy. Now, with three medals in a single Olympics, Eberharter's name belongs among ski-racing superstars like Toni Sailer and Jean-Claude Killy. And Eberharter is the only Austrian to win four Olympic medals.
Not even the Herminator can match that feat.
Eberharter's looseness showed at the press conference, where he leaned back in his chair, completely relaxed. He had taken advantage of his last shot, having been pushed by an unorthodox American skier named Bode Miller.
"How do you say it?" Eberharter asked, conferring with the translator. "Bode has a crazy style."
A smirk played upon his mouth, as the product of the Austrian alpine juggernaut shook his head at the seemingly undisciplined Miller.
Miller's racing style is full-on Franz Klammer, whether he's losing by five seconds or winning by five miles. With a first-or-flame-out mindset that is simultaneously frightening and enthralling, Miller obliterates mistakes, deficits and other racers with his raw speed. During a race in December in Val d'Isere, France, Miller fell near the starting gate, but bounced back up and won by .02 seconds, winning his first World Cup giant slalom -- the first American man to win the event in 18 years.
Today, the Franconia, N.H., native was in seventh after his first pass. In his final run down the slope, Miller let it ride, melting down the slopes and bull-rushing every gate, teetering and tilting all every which way. He even added a historical flourish to the end of his run, which ended up good for silver, by sitting on his bindings as he crossed the finish line. He had done the same thing in a World Cup race five years ago in Park City, where he finished second-to-last.
"That was fun because I've come a long way in five years," Miller said.
He's also come a long way for the United States. Bode is the first American male to ever win medals in either giant slalom or combined. Now he can tackle another historical mark: No American has ever won three alpine medals in one Olympics, and Miller has one final slalom race Saturday. The pressure will be on, because slalom happens to be his best event. Though he's second in the world, Miller will be gunning for No. 1.
Eberharter can give him a few tips on that.
Anne Marie Cruz writes for ESPN The Magazine.