Eberharter Wins World Cup Downhill Title

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St. Moritz, Switzerland Feb. 2, 2002 (AP by Erica Bulman)--Stephan Eberharter clinched his first World Cup downhill title, leading an Austrian sweep of the first five places in Saturday's downhill race in St. Moritz.

Eberharter, second to teammate Hermann Maier in last year's downhill standing, sped down the sun-drenched, 3,268-yard Corviglia course in 1 minute, 39.07 seconds for his fifth victory in eight downhills this season and his 15th career World Cup win.

Eberharter has 670 downhill points, out of reach of his competitors with two races remaining this season.

"This title is more important to me than a title in the super-G or giant slalom,'' Eberharter said. "I'm ecstatic. The slope here is very fast and at the start you need to be thinking about this already. I just had a good day, that's all.''

Fritz Strobl, the winner of a downhill in Bormio, was second in 1:39.25, followed by Michael Walchhofer in 1:39.85.

Austrians have won 17 downhill titles since the start of World Cup in 1967. Switzerland is second with 12.

Eberharter, 32, enters the Salt Lake City Olympics as the favorite in the downhill and super-G races.

"I never expected to win the downhill title, maybe the super-G or giant slalom but not the downhill,'' he said. "Everyone expects me to win the downhill in Salt Lake but it's never easy to win the gold medal. I go to America with great confidence and I'll give it my best shot. But if it doesn't work, the world will keep on turning.''

Scott McCartney of Redmond, Wash., was the top American finisher, in a tie for 24th at 1:41.31.

Eberharter leads the World Cup overall race with 1,292 points, followed by Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway at 936 and Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., at 820.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press