With 15 years of bashing gates under his belt, Austrian powerhouse Stephan Eberharter retired from ski racing this fall. Eberharter, 35, charged out of the starting gate in 1991 with super G and combined golds at the World Championships in Saalbach, Austria. But for the following decade, he skied in the shadow of his countryman, Hermann Maier, and became something of a stranger to the podium. Then came the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where the Herminator, sidelined with a broken leg and nerve damage, made way for Eberharter-who snagged a giant slalom gold, and, subsequently, the World Cup overall title in both 2002 and 2003. Last season, however, Eberharter caught a nasty flu, slipped back to runner-up status, and ultimately decided he'd rather ski for fun.
"After 25 seasons on the piste, I think the time has come to do other things," Eberharter told reporters. "Especially as I am feeling the mental and physical wear and tear."So, will his absence from the podium open things up for the likes of Bode Miller and the U.S. team? "When one Austrian is missing, there are three or four others coming out," says Italian World Cup stats-guru Matteo Pacor, casting doubt on Bode's chances for this year's overall title. "But it may be good for the overall downhill cup-and Daron Rahlves. He could be the one to beat this winter."