Welcome home, Hermann
Thirty percent of Hermann Maier may be better than 100 percent of everybody else.
At least that’s the way it looks after Thursday’s downhill training runs on the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, which Maier, the Austrian superman, won by nine hundredths of a second over teammate Peter Rzehak with a time of 1 minute, 41.14 seconds
Maier, who was quoted in the Denver Post on Wednesday saying that he is only 30 percent back to what he was in 2001 before a motorcycle accident almost cost him his right leg, looked like the Hermann of old on Thursday.
“It’s very good for me, because I feel small self confidence and I need it, for sure,” said Maier, when asked about his confidence heading into Friday’s and Saturday’s downhills. “This downhill is very tough, very mental. It’s a very fast, very dangerous course. You have to ski with technique.”
The Herminator has owned the Birds of Prey course since it first debuted on the World Cup and Alpine Ski Championship scene in 1997, winning seven out of the 10 races that he has entered. But, after the horrific accident two years ago, Maier isn’t quick to make predictions, even after coming off a super-G win in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend.
He is just happy to be back skiing – something one doesn’t take for granted when faced with the option of not even walking again.
“I find my heart beating at the moment I just ski more races day-by-day,” said a smiling Maier, who will turn 31 on Saturday.
Aside from a poor run from defending overall champion Stephan Eberharter, who was disqualified during his run and will start 30th on Friday, Maier and the rest of mighty, mighty Austrian team flexed its muscles during Thursday’s training runs.
The team claimed five of the seven top spots (Nos. 1,3,4,6,7) with only Norwegian Bjarne Solbakken (second, 1:41.23) and American Daron Rahlves (fifth,1:41.70) squeezing in to the mix.
Ralhves, last year’s overall World Cup downhill runner-up, who used a third-place finish at Birds of Prey last year to jumpstart his season, felt good about Thursday’s run and is looking forward to Friday and Saturday.
“Today, I just definitely got a good feel for it. I tried to conserve a little bit, but I was also trying to push it in some spots,” said Rahlves. “I was surprised how rough and icy it is. I wasn’t going too fast because I didn’t want to get too out of control on a training run.”
The same thing couldn’t be said for Rahvles’ teammate Marcos Sullivan, who crashed and injured his knee on the very first run of the day. After missing a gate, Sullivan decided to have a little fun and air out the Red Tail jump at the end of the course. But he pitched too far right and ended up in the safety nets and banners.
A little fun turned into a lot of pain, though.
“We’re still waiting for the MRI’s to come back,” said U.S Ski Team Vice President Tom Kelly on Thursday night. “He suffered an injury to his right knee and he will not be competing here this weekend. We won’t know the full severity of the injury until the MRI comes back.”
It was just another punch in the stomach for the U.S. Ski Team that lost World Cup veteran Erik Schlopy to a knee injury two weeks ago in Park City, Utah. Schlopy underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the ACL in his left knee and should be back within five to six months.
Along with Rahvles, current overall leader, American Bode Miller finished in 18th place on Thursday and will wear the No. 19 bib on Friday.
“With one training run it’s hard to really figure much out, so I just was taking an easy look at the entry points and the turns and just figuring out where I want to run tomorrow,” said Miller. “We pretty much have our skis that we are going to go on already. So, it didn’t really matter what happened today. We’ll go with the ski that will work the best for these conditions.”
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via email@example.com.