St. Moritz, Switzerland (Feb. 8) AP -- As expected, an Austrian won the World Championship downhill. Only it was a relative unknown, instead of one of the country's Olympic or World Cup champions.
Michael Walchhofer upstaged all four of his more famous teammates Saturday, beating the heavy favorites to win the banner event of the championship for his first career victory.
The Americans, meanwhile, had little success. Bode Miller failed to keep up his medal streak, finishing a disappointing 16th. Jake Fiala was the top American finisher in 12th, marking the first time the United States did not win a medal in St. Moritz.
It was a different story for Walchhofer. He beat World Cup downhill and overall champion Stephan Eberharter, the winner of five downhill races this season.
Walchhofer also topped Olympic gold medalist Fritz Strobl and defending champion Hannese Trinkl, along with the masterful Hermann Maier, recently back from a motorcycle crash 18 months ago.
"All the attention was on Maier and Eberharter, so I could prepare in peace," Walchhofer said. "It's a great honor to be on that team and to be downhill world champion means a lot to me."
The 27-year-old Walchhofer began his career as a technical skier but switched to downhill when he couldn't adapt to the new generation of short slalom skis. He was runner-up in four downhill races this season on the World Cup circuit.
His only win came in a combined event in Kitzbuehel, a paper event that adds the times from the weekend's downhill and slalom.
"I had good results this season in the downhill," Walchhofer said. "I'm happy that after being second so many times, I'm on top now. I knew I belonged at the top. At the finish, I thought I had a good run and that I could be the champion, and that's how it turned out. I still don't fully realize what I've done, though, nor what it will mean."
Norwegian veteran Kjetil-Andre Aamodt clinched the silver for his 12th world championship medal, the most of any man in Alpine skiing history. Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg and Lasse Kjus of Norway both have 11. Aamodt now has 19 medals, including the Olympics, an all-time high.
Bruno Kernen of Switzerland took the bronze. The Swiss skier won the downhill title in Sestriere, Italy, in 1997.
Walchhofer covered the steep, 2,989-meter Corviglia course in 1 minute, 43.54 seconds, beating Aamodt by 0.51 seconds. Kernen was 0.97 off the pace.
The Americans missed out on medals for the first time in four events.
Miller, who won the combined and shared the Super G silver with Maier, thought about skipping the riskier downhill to focus on his stronger events - the giant slalom and slalom.
"It's a great race, you want to be part of it. Anybody can win, maybe I could have nailed it easily, there were little gusts, if you were lucky you get a tail wind," Miller said.
Daron Rahlves was disqualified after missing the last gate. The American lost his balance coming off a jump just before the finish, then lost control, skiing on just one ski. Rahlves would have finished 16th.
"I was only in it to win," Rahlves said. "I made a mistake staying too low, looking for as much speed at the top. I had speed but I didn't have direction. I lost a lot of ground, I had to go for broke and it was just too much."
Marco Sullivan was 24th.
The mighty Austrian "Wunderteam" entered the downhill heavily favored. Eberharter, the Super G champion here, finished fifth. Maier finished eighth, while Strobl was 10th and Trinkl 31st.
Austria now has three golds and a silver. The Americans also have four - one gold, two silver and one bronze.
"Walchhofer went through the decisive spots superbly, no one would have beaten him today," Eberharter said. "He's a worthy champion. I am not too disappointed, I already have a gold."
MEN'S DOWNHILL RESULTS
1. Michael Walchhofer, Austria, 1 minute, 43..54 seconds.
2. Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, Norway, 1:44.05.
3. Bruno Kernen, Switzerland, 1:44.51.
4. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 1:44.67.
5. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 1:44.68.
6. Erik Guay, Canada, 1:44.70.
7. Ambrosi Hoffmann, Switzerland, 1:44.73.
8. Antoine Deneriaz, France, 1:44.76.
8. Hermann Maier, Austria, 1:44.76.
10. Fritz Strobl, Austria, 1:44.78.
11. Kristian Ghedina, Italy, 1:45.22.
12. Jakub Fiala, United States, 1:45.36.
13. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 1:45.42.
14. Sebastien Fournier-Bidoz, France, 1:45.48.
15. Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin, France, 1:45.62.
16. Bode Miller, United States, 1:45.78.
17. Bjarne Solbakken, Norway, 1:45.80.
18. Marco Buechel, Liechtenstein, 1:45.92.
19. Kurt Sulzenbacher, Italy, 1:45.94.
20. Peter Fill, Italy, 1:46.02.
21. Primoz Skerbinek, Slovenia, 1:46.07.
22. Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway, 1:46.10.
23. Nicolas Burtin, France, 1:46.11.
24. Marco Sullivan, United States, 1:46.18.
25. Franco Cavegn, Switzerland, 1:46.30.
26. Erik Seletto, Italy, 1:46.39.
27. Gregor Sparovec, Slovenia, 1:46.53.
28. Andrej Jerman, Slovenia, 1:46.60.
29. Vincent Lavoie, Canada, 1:46.75.
30. Peter Pen, Slovenia, 1:46.79.
31. Hannes Trinkl, Austria, 1:46.93.
32. Craig Branch, Australia, 1:47.16.
33. Finlay Mickel, Britain, 1:47.36.
34. Stefan Stankalla, Germany, 1:47.42.
35. Pavel Chestakov, Russia, 1:47.80.
36. Sergeij Komarov, Russia, 1:47.91.
37. Ondrej Bank, Czech Republic, 1:48.50.
38. Borek Zakouril, Czech Republic, 1:48.96.
39. Ivan Grebentscharski, Bulgaria, 1:50.08.
40. Martin Vrablik, Czech Republic, 1:50.43.
41. Ivan Heimschild, Slovakia, 1:50.56.
42. Maui Gayme, Chile, 1:50.57.
43. Johan Schreurs, Belgium, 1:51.61.
44. Peter Lubellan, Slovakia, 1:51.96.
45. Nikolay Skriabin, Ukraine, 1:53.37.
46. Alexander Heath, South Africa, 1:55.45.
Jeff Hume, Canada, and Max Rauffer, Germany, did not finish.
Daron Rahlves, United States, disqualified.
Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press