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58OLYMPIC REVIEWSTEPHAN EBERHARTERunder my own steam," Eberharter recalls. "Mostpeople assumed it was game over for me." But spurred into action by the tragic death in a car crash of his close ski racing, hang-gliding andmusic buddy, Richard Kroell, he fought back. Afterearning a spot on the team for the 1998 Games, he finished second in the giant slalom behind histeam-mate, Hermann Maier."I was delighted with that comeback season andOlympic silver in giant slalom", explains Eberharter inhis quiet, understated way. He was more than happyfor his team-mate, the loud and headline-grabbing"Herminator", to go from "from zero to hero" bywinning two golds (in giant slalom and super-G) aftera horrible daredevil crash in the downhill.Four years later, the 2002 Winter Games in SaltLake City were supposed to be Eberharter's Gamesbut, after winning five downhill races that season,bronze in the downhill behind compatriot Fritz Stroblseemed a poor reward for the beaten favourite. Butever since boys' races, Eberharter had known that in one-off downhill races anything could happen: "On a day like this, everything needs to go perfectly forthe favourites as well as for any winning underdog!"He was reminded of that in the super-G, when he was pipped to gold - this time by a 10th of a second by Norway's Kjetil André Aamodt.Eberharter was left contemplating what was to behis final Olympic appearance, in the giant slalom. "I had won the race before in St. Moritz, but BodeMiller was the big favourite," he recalls. In a dramaticshowdown at Park City, Eberharter finally won thatcherished Olympic gold medal, ahead of thecharismatic American."My Olympic success has opened a lot of doorsfor me", Eberharter admits, "you earn a lot of respectand admiration wherever you go. People confront you with what you've achieved. I know people do seeme as a role model. But I don't see myself as a hero, I am a family man."Becoming a father five years after his 2004retirement changed his mindset: "Before, all myattention was focused on my sports career. Whichultimately ends in your mid-thirties. But kids,partnership, family will last till the end of your days.That's what really counts."The mountaintops around Innsbruck will host the first Winter YOG next year, and famousPatscherkofel will have an historic revival. Eberharter,who was raised as a skier in his beloved Zillertal andlater in skiing boarding schools in Stubaital andStams, raced here in the Europa Cup as an 18-year-old and was part of that unique historic sweep out,when the Austrian ski team covered places 1-9 in the World Cup super-G in 1999.Thirteen years later, the best youth athletes fromall over the world will be carving on these slopes: "It will be a unique opportunity for all of them", saysEberharter, "you'll never forget your first big events,and you can profit so much from it. I can't wait." ?Left Eberharterproudly displayshis trio of medalsfrom the 2002Games in SaltLake City