Austrian ski racers look to recharge
November 29, 2007
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ” The Herminator is overdue for a win.
Throughout his illustrious and seemingly endless career, Austrian Hermann Maier has made many ski slopes look like his personal playground.
But there’s one pitch where his skis leave a trail of gold.
“It’s great to ski here ” I’ve had a lot of success,” Maier said of the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek.
Just exactly how much is a lot? Well, Maier has won six World Cup races and grabbed a pair of gold medals at the 1999 World Alpine Championships.
“I was a champion here in downhill, then in super-G, so I like this course,” he said.
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So even though Maier may have entertained thoughts about retiring at the end of last season, he’s still a perennial favorite when it comes to speed events at the Birds of Prey. And without a win since 2003, it may be time for the Herminator to land on the top step one more time.
Coming off a pair of 16th-place finishes in Lake Louise, Alberta, Maier is feeling pretty good on his new Head skis. This year, Maier switched from Atomic to Head.
“I was very satisfied for the downhill,” Maier said. “The super-G was not so good, but we will see now, it’s very early, and for sure the first races are a test for me. This is a technical downhill, so it’s a little different.”
While the skis may be new for Maier, the new rules mandating wider skis shouldn’t affect him too much.
“I had nearly the same skis at the beginning of my career,” Maier said. “I skied in 1998 on the same size of skis, so it’s not a big difference to me.”
Toni Giger, the head coach for the Austrian men’s alpine team, is clearly thrilled that Maier is back this year.
“Hermann is Hermann,” Giger said. “He’s the Herminator and very important for the team. He’s really professional and knows how to work. It’s part of his success that he’s a really professional skier.”
Austria’s Benjamin Raich looked to have a back-to-back overall title wrapped up late last year before Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal cleaned up at the World Cup finals, winning three races in a row. But an unfettered Raich is ready to take the big globe this year.
“The biggest goal for this year is the overall, that’s for sure,” Raich said.
With Svindal sidelined indefinitely following a training crash on Tuesday, Raich is now the heavy favorite to win. But Raich knows it’s anything but a cakewalk to the title.
“It’s hard to reach, but if I can reach that goal, I would reach a lot of smaller goals,” he said.
Raich, the defending slalom champion, has been working to boost his speed events.
“For me this year, it will be important to hold my level in my basic disciplines ” in slalom and giant slalom, and it’s also important to improve in downhill and super-G,” Raich said.
Last year, Raich finished third in the giant slalom standings, 13th in super-G and 32nd in downhill.
“I was very good sometimes in super-G and not very consistent in downhill,” Raich said. “But I trained very hard and will try to improve in that part.”
Already, Raich has impressed Giger with his speed improvements.
“He did very well at Lake Louise in the super-G ” he was second ” and we did a lot of speed training with him this summer. Hopefully he might be able to compete in all disciplines at a really high level,” Giger said.
While in years past the Austrians have packed the top of the standings, they have to look to some newer skiers to step into different roles, like Andreas Buder, who picked up his second career podium in the Lake Louise downhill last weekend.
“Andreas unfortunately got hurt (Tuesday) and had to go home today and will have a break for three to four weeks, and can start skiing again,” Giger said. “In the last three years, 10 races on the Austrian men’s team have retired from skiing who have won World Cup races. On the men’s side now, it’s kind of restructuring and a new generation coming up.”
As Giger knows, there are always lofty expectations for the team.
“You have to see it as positive,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest from the public, from the media. Sometimes it’s probably not easy to feel like it’s not pressure and to feel like it’s positive motivation, but that’s the way you have to see it.”
After being shut out from the podium in the opening pair of technical races, the Austrians came back for a pair of podiums in Lake Louise.
“The performance was really good,” Giger said. “The most important thing is we have individual goals, like for Benny, it’s the overall. For a young guy like Romed Baumann, who is 20 years old, and is new to the World Cup, if he has results in the top 15 or top 20, for him, it’s a really good performance.”
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