Austrians Are Upstaged Again

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St. Anton, Austria Jan. 30, 2001 (AP by Nesha Starevic)--With two races down in one of their showcase events, the Austrians are still without a gold medal. But the Americans have one.

The church bells in this Alpine resort are not yet ringing the death knell, but the mighty skiing nation is beginning to pay the price of high expectations.

After two days of competition at the World Championship, the Austrians have two medals _ more than any other nation _ but not of the color that really counts in this ski-crazy country.

Austrian superstar Hermann Maier and the rest of the powerful squad were upstaged again Tuesday in the men's super-G, after failing to medal in the women's super-G a day earlier.

Daron Rahlves, a 27-year-old Californian, blazed down the slope named after Austrian great Karl Schranz to win the gold medal. He beat Maier and Stefan Eberharter and Maier, the two best Austrians.

``I know I surprised a lot of people, but those who were surprised were those who didn't know me,'' said Rahlves, a former jet-ski world champion. ``But I knew I was able to do this. I know on my best day I can be the very best.''

The blaring horns and deafening cowbells of the shocked Austrian crowd were silenced when Rahlves surged to victory in 1 minute, 21.46 seconds, edging Eberharter by .08 seconds.

``I was really happy to see No. 1 next to my name when I came down, because it meant I had beaten Maier,'' said Eberharter, who had won the event 10 years ago. ``But I knew victory wasn't mine yet because Daron hadn't run yet.

``I knew Daron was skiing really well. He's a racer that made us all worry. We knew he could win here.''

Eberharter was forced to settle for silver in 1:21.54. Maier, the defending champion and the heavy favorite entering the race, was a humbled third, .23 off the pace in 1:21.69.

Maier put the best possible spin on the outcome.

``On the top I overlooked a right-hand curve and I never got back into the race until the bottom half,'' said the man known as Herminator. ``I wasn't so bad there, I was going faster and faster.

``I am not so disappointed, to be honest.''

Compared with the worlds two years ago in Vail, Colo., the numbers tell the story.

The Austrians had swept all the medals in the super-G races there, although Maier had to share his gold with Norway's Lasse Kjus, who finished fourth Tuesday.

On home snow, the Austrians might have expected to repeat.

The women were still reeling Tuesday, and their coach, Karl Frehsner, seemed to know why.

``Cockiness was punished,'' he said. ``Some of them felt too confident.''

The Austrians now have two days to regroup.

There are no races scheduled until Friday's downhill and slalom for the women's combination.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press