Wasmeier Returns in Style to Challenge for Olympic Gold
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ For a skier who started the season ranked 53rd in the downhill, who had trouble finding a sponsor and who contemplated retirement after a series of setbacks, Markus Wasmeier has come a long way.
Such a long way, in fact, that many consider the 28-year-old German veteran among the top contenders for the downhill gold medal at the Olympics.
Wasmeier’s career was revived on Jan. 11. Starting as 38th, Wasmeier flew down the classic Kandahar course to win a World Cup downhill in Garmisch- Partenkirchen.
″It was nice to win after such a disappointing season last year, when I even thought of retiring,″ Wasmeier said after the race.
Confirming his new-found form and confidence two weeks later on the technically demanding Lauberhorn course in Wengen, Wasmeier finished second only to Franz Heinzer, the Swiss world champion who is the No. 1 downhill racer this season.
″Now I can go to Albertville without any worries. This good series is just what I needed before the Olympics,″ Wasmeier said in Wengen.
Skiers say the Lauberhorn course was similar to the Olympic run in Val d’Isere - plenty of sharp turns without too many gliding sections. That’s the kind of course that favors technically strong skiers such as Wasmeier.
″For me, Wasmeier is the big favorite for the Olympic gold,″ Helmut Hoeflehner of Austria, third in Wengen, said.:
″It’s got plenty of curves and it’s very hard, icy. It’s ideal for Wasmeier,″ said Pirmin Zurbriggen, the retired Swiss ace, said after viewing the Olympic course.
Wasmeier is now truing to get used again to being a favorite.
″In training for Wengen, I had the fastest time. I had to learn again how to deal with the pressure that builds up in the night before the race,″ he said.
For a long while, it looked like Wasmeier would not have to deal with the pressure of winning.
He burst onto the scene in 1985, coming out of nowhere to win the giant slalom title at the World Championships in Bormio, Italy.
Wasmeier then enjoyed the two most productive seasons of his career, winning four super-giant slaloms and culminating with his first win in Wengen in 1987. That remained his only previous downhill victory until Garmisch this year.
The first dent in his career came with a bad crash in Furano, Japan, in March 1987. The downhill spill left Wasmeier shaken, physically and mentally.
″He was afraid of the downhill until last season,″ said Wasmeier’s coach Martin Osswald.
Still, the German team believed that Wasmeier had a chance for a medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, at least in the super-giant slalom. They watched incredulously as Wasmeier tumbled out at the very first gate.
There were few moments to remember in the next few years. In 1991, his bindings snapped open during a Super-G race in Garmisch and the same thing happened in training for the following downhill in Kitzbuehl.
″I began to panic before every race,″ Wasmeier said.
But then came his surprise victory at the end of the season, in a Super-G in Lake Louise, Canada. ″That really came out of the blue, it was the turning point, I realized that I could win again.″
His troubles were far from over, though. His ski maker withdrew from the German ski pool at the start of the season, leaving Wasmeier without a sponsor.
Finally, the Austrian maker Atomic was talked into giving Wasmeier a contract that only rewarded him for finishing among the top three.
That all changed after Garmisch, the ninth World Cup win of his career, and sponsors are flocking back to Wasmeier, who remains Germany’s most popular skier.
Ironically, Atomic also sponsors Heinzer. Heinzer is using last year’s models that have been shortened, while Wasmeier is racing on longer, narrower skis that have been developed for the Olympics and are designed for tighter turns.
Wasmeier got married in the summer and says that has also helped his career. ″I am more relaxed, the family has become more important than skiing and I don’t spend so much time brooding about defeats.″
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