St. Moritz, Switzerland Feb. 4, 2002 (AP by Erica Bulman)--By winning the men's final World Cup giant slalom before the Olympics, Austrian Stephan Eberharter established himself as a potential triple gold medalist in Salt Lake City.
His victory Sunday left him poised to try to become the first man to sweep three golds in a single Olympics since France's Jean Claude Killy 34 years ago.
The 32-year-old Austrian was already the favorite for both speed events, clinching the World Cup title Saturday after his fifth victory in eight downhill races this season, as well as winning three of four super-Gs.
Finishing second and third in the season's opening two giant slaloms, Eberharter also was considered a possible medal contender in the giant slalom event.
But he suddenly proved himself to be a serious threat for Olympic gold in the discipline after winning Sunday, putting the pressure on World Cup giant slalom leader Frederic Covili of France with one race left this season.
Eberharter, who has shone this year in the absence of Hermann Maier, would surpass his heralded teammate by collecting the triple in Salt Lake City.
``The Herminator'' triumphed in both the super-G and giant slalom at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, but failed to bring home gold in the downhill, where he horrified viewers with a crash that he walked away from.
No skier has won three golds in the Olympics since Killy swept the board in 1968, winning the downhill, giant slalom, slalom and combined in Grenoble, France. At the time, the super-G was not included.
``Everyone says I will win, but you can't plan to win gold at the Olympics,'' Eberharter said. ``I go to America skiing the best I ever have. I've shown I'm in great form, but we'll see what we get.''
Eberharter won the season's next-to-last giant slalom Sunday, charging down the long, steep Corviglia-Suvretta course in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 32.66 seconds. He edged Switzerland's Didier Cuche by .02 seconds.
``It's tough for downhillers to make good performances in the giant slalom,'' Eberharter said. ``We have a lot of training in the downhill and we're on tour all the time. It takes a lot out of you.''
It was the Austrian's fourth career giant slalom victory, but his first since 1999.
Austria's Hans Knauss was third in 2:33.04, getting his first podium finish in three years.
American speed specialist Bode Miller, the winner of a giant slalom in Val d'Isere, France, earlier this season, was fourth in 2:33.32. Miller did not seem his usual attacking self.
``I made a few mistakes and that's the difference between fourth place and the podium,'' Miller said. ``But I'm in good shape right now, good form, and I feel confident going into Salt Lake City.''
World Cup discipline leader Covili had a disastrous second run, dropping from eighth to 18th after nearly veering off course midway down.
The victory left Eberharter within reach of the World Cup giant slalom title with just one race left this season and 100 points still up for grabs.
Covili has 426 points. Cuche trails by 46 points and Eberharter by 64.
Eberharter holds a comfortable lead in the overall, which he tops with 1,392 points. Norwegian all-rounder Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who opted to skip the races in St. Moritz to rest before the Olympics, is second with 936 points. Miller is third with 870.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press