Austrian Raich Tops Maier in Slalom
FLACHAU, Austria (AP) _ Austrian star Hermann Maier lost a World Cup giant slalom in front of his hometown fans Sunday to a younger and less experienced teammate.
Benjamin Raich, a 20-year-old skier in his first season on the World Cup, rallied from third place after the first heat to win his first giant slalom title with a combined time of 1 minute, 27.02 seconds.
Maier wound up third, losing a race in his home country for the first time.
``It was never my goal to beat Maier,″ said Raich, a five-time World Junior champion. ``My goal was to finish at the top of the podium, and I don’t care who is behind me.″
Maier, the overall World Cup leader and Olympic champion in the giant slalom, said third place was a ``small victory,″ considering he had finished 20th in the previous World Cup giant slalom.
``Everybody was expecting a lot from me,″ Maier said. ``It was almost impossible to focus on the race. It was even harder than at the Olympics.″
Switzerland’s Michael Von Gruenigen, the world giant slalom champion, finished second, .05 seconds back.
``I am not disappointed with second place because the time difference is so small,″ said Von Gruenigen, who has won 15 giant slalom races.
Raich joined the World Cup circuit this season and immediately began making an impact. He scored his first World Cup victory in a slalom Thursday at Schladming, where he rallied from 23rd after the first run.
``For years it used to be the same people in the top spots,″ Von Gruenigen said. ``Now it is exciting to see newcomers to the circuit do so well. It gives you extra motivation.″
More than 20,000 spectators lined the course Sunday. They cheered wildly and honked horns when it was clear an Austrian had won the race.
``I think I have become quite popular with Austrian ski fans,″ Raich said.
Maier placed ninth in the first run, then tore down the second run in his aggressive style and moved up six places.
``Raich is in great shape,″ Maier said. ``But I will strike back 100 percent.″
Both Maier and Von Gruenigen said Raich was successful because he felt no pressure to win, allowing him to stay relaxed and take more risks.
Before Sunday’s race, Maier had won every World Cup he had competed in on Austrian slopes since joining the circuit last season.
Maier, whose parents are ski instructors at Flachau, increased his lead in the overall World Cup standings to 208 points. Norway’s Lasse Kjus, who fell for the second consecutive race Sunday, is second.
Von Gruenigen took over the event lead from Austrian Christian Mayer.