SESTRIERE, Italy, Mar. 10 2004 (AP by Erica Bulman) -- American Daron Rahlves won the men's World Cup Final downhill Wednesday.
Rahlves charged down the 2.04-mile Kandahar course in 1 minute, 51.88 seconds, securing second place in the season's final downhill standings. He beat Austrian Fritz Strobl by a tenth of a second. Stephan Eberharter was third in 1:52.01.
It was Rahlves' eighth career World Cup win, all in speed events, and fourth this season.
"I'm super stoked. I'm really liking this hill," Rahlves said. "This is the way I want to end my season.
"My goal was to win the downhill title but I had a good all around season. It gives me a huge lift for next season."
He also won a downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., in December and a super-G in Kitzbuehel, Austria, in January before adding his latest super-G victory last Sunday in Kvitfjell, Norway.
Eberharter was the only contender for the overall title to score points, jumping into second place in the general rankings, behind leader Hermann Maier.
Struggling on a course he was unfamiliar with, Maier finished 18th. Only the top 15 earn points at the World Cup Finals.
American Bode Miller was 22nd, while Benjamin Raich was 24th.
Maier is in position to win the overall World Cup title, a remarkable accomplishment considering he nearly lost a leg in a motorcycle accident 2 1/2 years ago.
"It would be the right thing if I won it," said Maier, who took skiing's most prestigious trophy in 1998, 2000 and 2001. "I was the best before my accident."
Maier tops the overall standings with 1,165 points and just four races remaining this season -- a downhill, super giant slalom, giant slalom and slalom this week at the World Cup Finals. He's 67 points ahead of Miller, a threat in all disciplines.
Maier also is being chased by teammates Eberharter, the defending champion who was third with 1,083 points before Wednesday's win; and technical specialist Raich, fourth with 1,063.
"Now it's going to be hard," Maier said after his disappointing finish in the downhill on Wednesday. "I'm have to be perfect in the super-G and good in the giant slalom to win."
Maier plans to compete in the downhill, super-G and giant slalom, while Miller is to race in all four events. Eberharter won't ski the slalom, and Raich plans to compete in all four.
"This is like a dream. It's amazing to be in the position I am in," said Maier, also a double Olympic gold medalist. "I never would have expected this at the start of the season."
Maier is making one of the most amazing comebacks in sports, stunning himself, fans and competitors alike.
Pulled from the wreckage when a car hit his motorcycle in Radstadt, Austria, in August 2001, Maier was close to kidney failure and amputation of a leg. He underwent seven hours of surgery during which a 14-inch titanium rod was screwed into his shattered shin bone.
He had to learn to walk again, then underwent a grueling rehab program just to be able to stand on skis. Still, Maier was determined to return to the World Cup circuit, and his comeback has been anything but symbolic.
"He is very strong in his head. It was true before and hasn't changed," Austrian coach Hans Pum said. "It was a very long journey.
"Definitely in skiing I can't think of a bigger or more dramatic comeback."
Maier already has reclaimed the super-G World Cup title he held from 1998-01.
The men's super-G is scheduled for Thursday, the giant slalom for Saturday and slalom for Sunday.
Maier refuses to put any internal pressure or label himself the favorite.
"I'm not in the best shape," he said. "I'm not in the shape I was in before I was injured, but hopefully I can challenge the odds again."
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press