Snowbasin, Utah Feb. 9, 2002 (AP Rob Gloster)--For the past year, Daron Rahlves has been in the spotlight as the unlikely world champion who defeated the mighty Austrian alpine skiers on their own slopes.
Sunday, he gets another chance to take on Stephan Eberharter and the rest of the Austrian juggernaut, this time on his home turf.
Rahlves, world champ in the super giant slalom, is the top American contender in the downhill.
After posting the 16th-fastest time in a training run Saturday, Rahlves said he's ready to take on the Austrians who have dominated the World Cup circuit this season.
``The next time I kick my skis on and shoot out of the starting gate is going to be the one,'' he said. ``It's going to be exciting, racing in the Olympics in your home country. I plan on coming out on top.''
Though France's Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin came out of the 30th starting position to post the fastest time of 1 minute, 39.84 seconds in Saturday's final training run, Austrians dominated as usual _ posting the next six fastest times.
Fritz Strobl was second fastest in 1:39.93 and Eberharter, who has won five of the eight World Cup downhills this season, was third in 1:40.15. Both already had clinched spots on the Austrian downhill squad.
But since a maximum of four skiers per nation are allowed in an Olympic alpine event, Saturday's practice session became a ski-off for the final two spots on the Austrian squad.
Those spots were claimed by Christoph Gruber and Christian Greber. Left off the team were skiers such as Hannes Trinkl, the reigning world champion in downhill, who was 12th Saturday.
Eberharter said he was relieved at not having to go through the tense qualifying his teammates faced Saturday. He was eliminated in a similar ski-off at the 1998 Olympics.
``It is always a bad situation. Two guys are lucky,'' he said. ``That's the problem the Austrians have.''
Eberharter, who has emerged as the world's top skier this season in the absence of injured compatriot Hermann Maier, also is favored in the Super G and is a medal contender in the giant slalom.
He had the fastest time in Thursday's downhill training run on the breathtakingly steep Grizzly course, on which skiers will reach speeds of 80 mph and face a jump on which they'll sail about 150 feet.
``I know I'm in good shape. I've had a great season so far,'' Eberharter said. ``But I don't think a lot about tomorrow. I want to just handle it like a normal World Cup race.
''... It's a difficult course. You have to make all the turns very clear. It's a bit shorter than the normal World Cup races that we have, so I expect a close race tomorrow.''
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