Veteran Austrian beats Maier in men's downhill
Updated: Wednesday February 07, 2001 1:23 PM
ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) -- More than 35,000 people came to see the men's downhill Wednesday hoping for an Austrian victory and they didn't go away disappointed. Hermann Maier said he wasn't disappointed either, although he was still without a gold medal.
With horns blaring and even nuns waving red-and-white Austrian flags, Hannes Trinkl beat Maier for the gold medal with a brave run down the badly chopped and shortened Karl Schranz course.
"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."
A 33-year-old veteran with no victories this season, Trinkl hurled himself down the slope with abandon to win the most important race of the year and dethrone Maier as world champion.
Florian Eckert, an unheralded German who started 25th, celebrated his 22nd birthday by clinching the bronze medal, after posting the fastest times in the upper part of the course and making the Austrians tremble for their 1-2 finish. German men had not won a world championship medal since 1989.
"My heart stopped for a minute," said Trinkl, a hefty, tomato-cheeked racer who won the bronze medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Teen-agers with painted faces, fur-coated ladies, black-clad nuns, fans with wacky hats and Austrian team members had already launched a boisterous celebration in spring-like temperatures when Eckert completed his stunning run.
"It's completely crazy," said Eckert, whose best previous finish was an 18th place this season, his first on the circuit.
The women returned to the slope in the evening for the slalom, on a rapidly deteriorating slope.
Anja Pearson of Sweden led after a first heat of 44.69 seconds, .19 ahead of Christelle Saioni of France. Top favorite Janica Kostelic of Croatia, winner of seven straight slaloms this season, lagged 1.21 seconds behind in third place.
Many racers fell or struggled on the slushy course and Kristina Koznick of the United States remained in contention in fourth place, although she was 1.33 behind.
With a bronze in the super-G and silver in the downhill, Maier is now the only multiple medalist. But the two-time Olympic champion has lost both of his world titles.
"I am not really disappointed, although the gold is still missing," Maier said. "I am happy for Hannes, he really deserved it. I was too slow in the curves. On this downhill you can only lose. A longer downhill and a couple of degrees colder would have been better for me."
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.
The course had been icy and hard last week, but then came new snow over the weekend, followed by mild temperatures that left organizers scrambling to prepare the course. The downhill had to be postponed from Saturday.
This left Maier at a disadvantage, since he prefers hard, icy and long courses where his stamina usually carries the day.
"I could have taken a more direct line in the finish too," he said.
Maier's last chance for the elusive gold will come Thursday in the giant slalom.
Trinkl covered the 2,505-meter (8,250-foot) course in one minute, 38.74 seconds. Maier clocked 1:38.94 and Eckert finished in 1:39.26.
Silvano Beltrametti of Switzerland finished fourth in 1:39.37 and Daron Rahlves of the United States, winner of the super-G, finished 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 his ski when he hit a rut at the bottom of the piste.
"If I hadn't made that mistake, it would have been a perfect drive," Rahlves said.
The men's 1-2 finish came a day after the Austrian women swept the medals in their downhill, giving the host nation nine medals, two of them gold.