Birds of Prey flashback: Hermann Maier doesn’t win, rarity for Austrian skiing great
VAIL — Twenty years ago, Hermann Maier did not win.
Yes, this should be Birds of Prey week at Beaver Creek with the men’s World Cup coming to town, but, alas, COVID-19. As it is, the men are in Italy racing giant slalom, while the ladies (minus Mikaela Shiffrin) have super-G in Switzerland as the World Cup’s North American swing was nixed in 2020.
But it doesn’t stop us from looking back, and the biggest development during the 2000 edition of Birds of Prey was that the Herminator didn’t terminate the competition in the super-G that year.
One has to remember that Birds of Prey was Maier’s house when it opened in 1997. Yes, Italy’s Kristian Ghedina and Austria’s Andreas Schifferer won the first two downhills during the course’s debut weekend. But on Dec. 6, 1997, the third and final day of racing, Maier won the super-G.
That was the first of seven straight starts at Beaver Creek that Maier won on Birds of Prey. The Austrian legend famously tied with Norway’s Lasse Kjus at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in super-G. Then, Maier won the gold in the worlds downhill.
Maier came back in December 1999 for the regular Birds of Prey stop and swept all three races — GS, downhill and super-G. The only other man to sweep the weekend at Beaver Creek is Switzerland’s Carlo Janka in 2009.
Birds of Prey 2000 started with more of the same — Maier winning the downhill by 0.49 seconds of Kjus for his seventh straight win there. And then on Dec. 3, 2000, for some reason, Maier didn’t win the super-G. Norway’s Frederick Nyberg did. Maier plummeted to sixth.
It turned out that race would be the last time in a while that Maier would race at Birds of Prey. He had a motorcycle accident during the offseason. He nearly lost one of his legs in that adventure. Nonetheless, Maier returned in 2003 to win the downhill.
It was a changing of the guard. Later on that weekend in 2003, Daron Rahlves became the first American to win a downhill on home snow at Birds of Prey. Rahlves and Bode Miller took over Birds of Prey in a distinctly American fashion, while Maier exited the stage.
As ski racing fans have experienced through the years (ahem, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin), there are times when an athlete is performing so well that you know the rest of the field is racing for second. But for everyone else to be racing for second for three years? That was ridiculous.
That said, Maier added gravitas to Birds of Prey, this newfangled stop on the White Circus. In one of those moments of cosmic alignment, Birds of Prey was the perfect course at the perfect time for Austria’s skiing god of the generation. If Hermann Maier liked it — and he did — it was good enough for all.
Going into the way-back machine, on the day Nyberg snapped Maier’s run, Austria’s Christoph Gruber finished second and Norway’s Kenneth Silversten rounded out the podium. Local boy Chad Fleischer was the top American in 17th.
Some dude named Bode Miller, 23, from Franconia, New Hampshire, finished 40th. We don’t know what happened to him.
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