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<P>Trinkl Beats Maier for Downhill Gold Medal, Rahlves Fifth


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St. Anton, Austria (AP by Andrzej Stylinski)–Hannes Trinkl beat fellow Austrian Hermann Maier to win the gold medal in the men’s downhill Wednesday, the showcase race of the World Championships.

Trinkl, a 33-year-old veteran who won the bronze medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, dethroned Maier with a brave run down the shortened and badly rutted Karl Schranz course. American star Daron Rahlves, upset winner last week in the super-G, was fifth.

“I made just a small mistake in the upper part and then I knew I had to fight, fight and fight,” Trinkl said. “I was really surprised when I got to the finish line.”

Florian Eckert of Germany, who started 25th, celebrated his 22nd birthday by winning the bronze medal after posting the fastest times in the upper part of the course.

Silvano Beltrametti of Switzerland finished fourth in 1:39.37. Rahlves, of Truckee, Calif., was fifth in 1:39.64.

Rahlves was the fastest in the upper half, but he veered off the line in a wide curve and then nearly lost a ski when he hit a rut.

It was another setback for Maier, the World Cup champion, who could only manage a silver after a disappointing bronze in the super-G.

“I am not really disappointed, although the gold is still missing,” Maier said. “I am happy for Hannes, he used his weight to launch himself down the course fast.”

Maier, who was defending his title, was slower in the upper parts, but as usual his stamina allowed him to be fast in the bottom part.

“He really deserved it,” Maier said. “The downhill is a race where you can only lose. A longer downhill would have been better for me.”

But Trinkl, starting as No. 6 three spots after Maier, had the faster splits and stayed on line to clinch the gold.

The men’s 1-2 finish came a day after the Austrian women swept the medals in their downhill.

Bad weather since Friday ruined the perfect snow conditions in this Tyrollean resort and left the Karl Schranz course soft and choppy, with bumps that skiers racing at about 80 mph can’t even see.

Snow conditions prompted the organizers to shorten the downhill, with the starting point somewhere between the proper downhill start and that of the shorter combined course.

Two favorites were eliminated before the start. Italy’s Kristian Ghedina broke a bone in his left foot while jogging on the eve of the race, and Lasse Kjus of Norway, suffering from bronchitis, pulled out on the morning of the start. His teammate, Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, winner of the combined, pulled out to concentrate on the slalom.

Among the top-rated skiers to fall was Didier Cuche of Switzerland

In the women’s downhill, Michaela Dorfmeister, Renate Goetschl and Selina Heregger kept their speed and stayed firmly at the edges at the tight downhill curves, while many others found the bumpy course too tricky.

Favored Isolde Kostner of Italy was fifth, .80 seconds behind Dorfmeister. Canada’s Emily Brydon and American Caroline Lalive fell.

The women’s victory followed media criticism after the Austrian women failed to win a podium place in the super-G, and the first week of the championships left Austria without a gold medal.

Austria’s morale was further boosted by Mario Matt’s silver in the men’s combined Tuesday, slightly behind Aamodt and ahead of Swiss veteran Paul Accola.

Aamodt said he hopes to add to the 14 medals won at Olympics or world championships, the largest number by any skier in history, in Saturday’s slalom.

The women return Wednesday evening, when Janica Kostelic of Croatia is favored to win the slalom. She won all seven World Cup slaloms this season.

Overwhelmingly favored to win the women’s combined last week, Kostelic fell in the first slalom run, ending a nine-race winning streak going back to the last season.

Other contenders for the podium include Austria’s Karin Koellerer and teammate Christine Sponring, who toook the silver in women’s combined.

Two Americans could also get into the medal contention. Kristina Koznick is second in slalom standings and Sarah Schlepper also has been on the podium this season.

Sonja Nef of Switzerland and Martina Ertl of Germany, the combined gold medalist, complete the circle of favorites.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press