Newest Austrian star already compared to past greats
BORMIO, Italy (AP) _ Hermann Maier, the newest star of the powerful Austrian Alpine team, was drawing comparisons with past skiing greats following his fourth career World Cup victory.
``We have got the new Zurbriggen. He’s as powerful and technical as Pirmin,″ former Italian skier Bruno Gattai said as Maier flashed to victory in Monday’s downhill, leading an Austrian sweep of the top four places in the first of consecutive speed events in this Alpine resort.
Pirmin Zurbriggen, a Swiss, won four World Cup titles between 1984 and 1990, scoring 40 wins in all four disciplines of Alpine skiing - downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom.
Maier, starting in his first World Cup season as full-time member of his national team, has won in three disciplines, excepting slalom, and is looking forward to the World Cup overall title.
``The World Cup is very important for all Austrian skiers and for the entire country. I believe it’s more important than the Olympics, and I hope to clinch it,″ Maier said.
While dominating some of the men’s disciplines, Austrian skiers have failed to capture the individual World Cup crystal globe since Karl Schranz in 1970.
``My idol is Franz Klammer, and my great passion is skiing,″ said Maier, who had to give up ski racing between 14 and 17 of age following knee problems.
``When racing, I only try to get faster, and today it was quite a fast race,″ said Maier, who has had a sensational season start, including wins in the super-G at Beaver Creek and a giant slalom at Park City.
He was stripped of another victory in Val D’Isere earlier this month when, overjoyed with his first place in a giant slalom, he took off one ski and displayed the label to television cameras in a forbidden finish line area.
``It was my fault ... I’m happy today because I regained the 100 points lost in France,″ he said.
His first downhill victory vaulted Maier atop the speciality standings, with 209 points, and strengthened his lead overall at 589 points after 11 races.
Maier, who rejoined the national team in 1995, leads teammate Stefan Eberharter by 146 points.
Eberharter placed fourth Monday, behind Maier, Andreas Schifferer and Werner Franz.
Schifferer, winner of the previous downhill at Beaver Creek, lost Monday’s race to Maier by only three hundredths of a second.
The winner completed the downhill course in 2 minutes, 1.59 seconds.
There were seven Austrians in the top 10 Monday, seven among the top eight in a giant slalom at Alta Badia eight days earlier and five in the top five in the Beaver Creek downhill.
``We never talk of the Olympics between us, but we all want to get a berth for Nagano,″ Maier said.
The Austrian team is rich in talent but can enter only four athletes in each race of Alpine skiing at the Winter Games in Japan in February.
Maier said he liked super giant slalom most.
``I would be satisfied to get a place in the Super-G quartet, but I really hope to also make giant slalom and downhill,″ he said.
In today’s second downhill down the same course, the icy and demanding Stelvio track, the Austrians were looking for their eighth season victory in 12 races.