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Eberharter is the Man to Beat in DH

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland Feb. 7, 2003 (AP Nesha Starcevic)--The first time they skied against each other at the Alpine Skiing World Championships, Bode Miller and Hermann Maier finished tied for second.

The man who beat them then could do it again.

Stephan Eberharter is the favorite in Saturday's downhill, the blue-ribbon event of the two-week competition.

The 33-year-old Austrian veteran beat Miller and Maier by a healthy 0.77 seconds in the Super G to win the gold.

Now there's another chance for Miller-who has two of the four U.S. medals and his first major title in the combined event Thursday-and Maier-who's continuing his comeback from the motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his right leg.

There was some doubt early Friday whether Miller would race the dangerous downhill or skip it and concentrate on the upcoming slalom and giant slalom events, usually his strongest disciplines.

He took one practice run Friday, and by the end of the day, he said he would race, unless the weather turned ugly.

The forecast was good.

"Going into today, I was hoping for a chance to ski on a hard course," Miller said. "It was a bit harder today, but it's still different conditions than anything we've seen this year.

"I skied well in some sections, I had some good turns, but I still have problems with the bottom," he said.

Maier, a two-time Olympic champion and three-time World Cup overall winner, is three weeks into his comeback. He won a World Cup Super G race in Kitzbuehel, and took the silver in the same event at the worlds.

"In all the races I've had so far, I've shown improving form," Maier said.

But the favorite is Eberharter, who has five downhill wins this season and leads the overall World Cup standings. With Maier out last year, Eberharter won the overall crown as the most consistent skier on the circuit.

Winner of three medals at last year's Olympics, Eberharter never has lost at this Swiss resort.

"This slope simply suits me. I have no pressure, I have nothing left to prove," he said.

Eberharter and Maier lead a formidable Austrian team that includes defending champion Hannes Trinkl and Olympic gold medalist Fritz Strobl.

American Daron Rahlves finished a disappointing 22nd as defending champion in the Super G, but he has two downhill wins this season and trails only Eberharter in the discipline standings.

More importantly, one of Rahlves' two victories came in Kitzbuehel, generally considered the toughest downhill on the circuit.

On the women's side, defending downhill champion Michaela Dorfmeister is seeking a second gold on Sunday but faces tough competition.

"It's going to be tight," Dorfmeister said. "There are five or six girls who can win."

Americans Kirsten Clark and Jonna Mendes stunned the field by sweeping silver and bronze in Monday's Super G.

"I feel pretty good. There are definitely things to fix before the race but I have a lot of anticipation," said Clark, the co-leader of the World Cup downhill standings with Olympic champion Carole Montillet of France.

"I won't be going in over-expecting. I think I'll be relaxed because I already have a medal. I'm going to stick to my game plan Sunday, and I'll be gunning it."

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press

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