Austrians’ devotion spans ocean |

Austrians’ devotion spans ocean

Bret Hartman/Vail DailyAustrian fans cheer as Hermann Maier comes down the Birds of Prey race course during the men's World Cup super G Thursday in Beaver Creek. Maier placed eighth.

BEAVER CREEK – In the crowd at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey, among the amused day skiers, schoolchildren on field trips and the VIPs mingling in their tent, a few Austrian fan clubs gave the race a taste of the madhouse atmosphere of European World Cup events.At the kickoff event of the Birds of Prey on Thursday, the super-G race, three small groups were clad in uniforms to show support for their skier of choice. All three of the groups had come to Colorado from Austria, where ski racing is a national sport akin to football or baseball stateside.The most well-represented club was supporting Austrian skier Benjamin Raich. Four people set up shop below their banner at the top of the grandstand at the base of the course, wearing blue and white jackets. Raich’s giant mug was depicted on the banner behind them.Margit Schwarz, a 35-year-old teacher from Klagenfurt, Austria, said she goes to several other World Cup events each year – but none as far afield as Beaver Creek. She arrived here Tuesday.

“It’s more emotional if you are live,” she said.The stands were empty as the Benni Raich club set up their banner. David Nebehay, 22, a hotel worker in Austria, said the atmosphere is a far cry from similar events in Europe – where events attract upwards of 50,000 and the stands are packed 30 minutes before a race.”You wouldn’t get a place there,” he said.But smaller crowds make the races more intimate, he said.”It’s like a family-area atmosphere,” he said.

A skiing pigRupert Walchofer led a contingent of two who cheered for his son, Michael. They arrived a few minutes before the race began and headed for a spot at the top of grandstand where they had hung their banner. They found that kids from Red Sandstone Elementary School had taken up position there, and had to ask a teacher for permission to clear a space. The children looked at them rather puzzledly as the two stood in their red-and-yellow Walchofer fan club uniforms.The Walchofer group blew a loud trumpet each time an Austrian came down the slope.And again this year, a banner of a large, schussing pig denoted the presence of Hermann Maier’s fan club.The Herminator Fan Club had three members present, all from his hometown of Flachau. They had come into town from Lake Louise, Canada, the site of last week’s World Cup event.

Herwig Holzer owns a sportswear company in Austria. He said Maier can sense their presence. “In Lake Louise he looked around to see who was there,” he said.The trip was a kind of vacation for Holzer.”It’s partly a holiday,” he said. “We like the atmosphere.”There’s always tomorrowWalchhofer, Raich and Maier competed in quick succession. The groups waved their Austrian flags, jumped up and down, blew their trumpet or simply watched in rapt attention, though none of the three placed among the top spots.

Hannes Reichelt, a young Austrian, ended up with the best time.As Maier stood in the finish area, Holzer tried to get his attention. “Herminator! Herminator!” he yelled plaintively.Ernst Lackner of the Herminator club said the course was too snowy for Maier. Schwarz said her skier, Raich, was nursing a cold. Nebehay, who had no comment on his man Raich’s performance, said it’s good to see some up-and-comers doing well.”We need the younger guys winning,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or

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