Preview: Alpine Skiing: Downhill and SuperG

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To the traditional powers of alpine skiing — Switzerland, Austria and Italy — all this freestyling and halfpipe stuff is strictly New World. To them, a course, a clock and a mountain are challenge enough. The Austrians have owned alpine skiing lately, but their men's team has been devastated by injuries, most significantly to Hermann "The Herminator" Maier, a double gold medal winner at Nagano who shattered his leg in a horrendous motorcycle accident last summer. No less than five other top Austrian skiers are also on the shelf.

So Austria is kaput, right? Not even close. The team is tremendously deep. Stephan Eberharter, currently the world's No. 1 ranked all-around skier, alone could easily claim three medals. Eberharter has been a downhill monster, winning five races this year in addition to three SuperGs , and just last week he threw in giant slalom win, too.

The men's downhill, one of the don't-wanna-miss-it Olympic events, will be run this Sunday on the Grizzly course at Snowbasin, about 45 miles north of Salt Lake City. Grizzly has racers tightening their boots because it's not a course for gliders. You have to ski it, or it will eat you alive, at 80 mph. "It doesn't favor heavy skiers," explains former Olympian Billy Kidd, now director of skiing at Steamboat in Colorado. "There's no place where you sit in your tuck. It's very technical. You are always on an edge." That's perfect for Eberharter, says Kidd. "Eberharter will be tough to beat in downhill and super G."

As if Eberharder isn't enough, the Austrians can also call on Fritz Strobl, who has won two Super Gs and a downhill this season. The Austrians have a threat in Hannes Trinkl, a veteran skier returning from injury who is ramping up his performance heading into the Games. Trinkl has six downhill victories in his career, including last year's world championship. Trikl might have been a medal favorite but for a head injury that sidelined him for a couple months.

Trinkl has a wrinkle working for him, too. He's using a new ski from Head that features a built-in computer chip. The chip is connected to a series of "intelligent" fibers throughout the ski that convert the mechanical energy produced by the skier moving downhill into electrical energy. Result: the fibers can sense that the skis are vibrating too much — chattering, in ski talk — and then instantly stiffen them. Trinkl is hoping this will help him steal a tenth of a second here or there, which in downhill is an eternity. The rest of us will able to buy these so-called Intelligent skis this September, according to the company.

U.S. hopes in the downhill crashed when Chad Fleischer did in a training run in Europe a couple of weeks ago. That leaves Daron Rahlves as the best American hope to medal in the speed events. Rahlves has a much better shot at the Super G. Last year he won the Super G world championship at St. Anton in Austria, so he has some-big race confidence. His best finish this year has been fourth at Kitzbuehel. "I'd be really surprised if Ralves didn't get a medal," says former Olympic downhill champion Tommy Moe, now a ski ambassador at Wyoming's Jackson Hole. "He's really at the top of his game."