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St. Moritz, Switzerland (Feb. 3) AP – Eberharter, who took over as World Cup overall, downhill and super-G champion last season while Maier recovered from a motorcycle crash, got the best of his rival Sunday, winning the super-G in the World Championship.
Maier, only three weeks into a comeback from the 2001 accident that nearly cost him his right leg, has shown he’s back and as dangerous as ever, tying for second with American Bode Miller. A week before, the Austrian won the super-G on the notorious Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbuehel.
“I’m still missing some things,” Maier said. “I feel I’ve recovered pretty well technically, but it’s not surprising some things are missing. I’ve only had three-to-four weeks to catch up.”
The rivalry started in the season-opening giant slalom in Tignes, France, in October 1997, when Maier finished third and Eberharter a close second. Unknown to them at the time, it was a sign of things to come.
During Maier’s four-year reign over the World Cup, Eberharter repeatedly found himself outranked.
Finishing second to his illustrious countryman a staggering 13 times over the years, Eberharter was forced to endure endless questions about his failure to overcome his exalted teammate.
Following Maier’s accident, Eberharter’s accomplishments were then put into question, many doubting whether he would have had such success had his teammate been around.
Now, despite a strong bid to defend his overall title and winning three Olympic medals in Salt Lake City, including a gold in the giant slalom, Eberharter finds himself in danger once again of losing his status as the world’s best.
While the two have never been friends, Eberharter dismissed reports that they had a strained relationship.
“To be the winner of this race is much more important than beating Hermann Maier,” Eberharter said. “We are getting on well with each other, it’s the media that says it is the other way around.”
“Hermann shouldn’t be disappointed. His comeback is more than anyone could have expected.”
But tension between the two has flared often, even recently. At the last worlds on home snow in St. Anton, Eberharter seemed poised for victory, crossing ahead of Maier in his favorite discipline, the super-G.
When American Daron Rahlves swooped in to edge Eberharter for the victory, Maier punched the air in front of him in what seemed like satisfaction at his rival’s defeat, even though it meant bronze instead of silver for himself.
Similarly, at Maier’s comeback in a giant slalom in Adelboden on Jan. 14, Eberharter quickly left the finish area after a disappointing opening run, not even watching Maier’s effort.
The previous day, Eberharter was noticeably cool after being ignored on the slopes as journalists and television crews clustered around Maier following course inspection.
The two have had similar comeback stories. Maier has come back from devastating injuries leg injuries after a car hit his motorcycle in Radstadt, Austria, in August 2001.
Eberharter, who first shot to fame in 1991, coming from nowhere to win two gold medals at the worlds in his homeland, broke his collarbone in a motocross accident in 1992. He then disappeared from the World Cup circuit for three seasons after tearing ligaments in his left knee in Val Gardena, Italy, that required three operations through 1994 and ’95.
But while Maier’s World Cup ranking was protected, Eberharter was forced to claw his way back up into the World Cup circuit, earning good results on the lower-tier but fiercely competitive Europa Cup and finally returned to the top Austrian team in 1997.
Now, 12 years after his first world title, Eberharter has reclaimed it.
WORLD ALPINE SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS RESULTS
1. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, one minute, 38.80 seconds.
2. Bode Miller, United States, 1:39.57.
2. Hermann Maier, Austria, 1:39.57..
4. Ambrosi Hoffmann, Switzerland, 1:39.61.
5. Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, Norway, 1:39.75.
6. Erik Guay, Canada, 1:39.88.
7. Jan Hudec, Canada, 1:39.91.
8. Bruno Kernen, Switzerland, 1:39.96.
9. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 1:40.04.
10. Gregor Sparovec, Slovenia, 1:40.10.
11. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 1:40.37.
11. Marco Buechel, Liechtenstein, 1:40.37.
13. Peter Fill, Italy, 1:40.45.
14. Christoph Gruber, Austria, 1:40.59.
15. Sebastien Fournier, France, 1:40.76.
16. Vincent Lavoie, Canada, 1:40.78.
17. Claude Cretier, France, 1:40.85.
17. Marco Sullivan, United States, 1:40.85.
19. Bjarne Solbakken, Norway, 1:40.93.
20. Patrik Jaerbyn, Sweden, 1:41.06.
21. Didier Defago, Switzerland, 1:41.09.
22. Daron Rahlves, United States, 1:41.11.
23. Fredrik Nyberg, Sweden, 1:41.28.
23. Stefan Stankalla, Germany, 1:41.28.
25. Michael Gufler, Italy, 1:41.58.
26. Peter Pen, Slovenia, 1:41.62.
27. Roland Fischnaller, Italy, 1:41.74.
28. Jakub Fiala, United States, 1:41.79.
29. Finlay Mickel, Biritain, 1:42.18.
30. Andrej Jerman, Slovenia, 1:42.24.
Thomas Vonn, United States, and Jeff Hume, Canada, did not finish.