With another win in tow, Maier returns to Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

With another win in tow, Maier returns to Beaver Creek

BOP Hermann Maier DT 12-2-08

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” He is nearing the status of ancient on the World Cup.

He turns 36 on Sunday.

A lot of people thought he’d seen his best days.

But then again, Austrian’s Hermann Maier’s been written off before after his spectacular spill during the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and in 2001 when he nearly lost his right leg after a motorcycle accident.

The Austrian rallied for two gold medals after his Olympics crash and returned triumphantly to the World Cup after his motorcycle adventure, winning the overall crown in 2004.

Too old?

That theory went by the boards Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta, where the 35-year-old- won a super-G, Maier’s first win on the tour since 2006 and the 54th of his storied career.

“I was, for sure, surprised,” Maier said. “The season started in August or the beginning of September, but then I had some problems with my body. I had this cold, this flu all September-long. Then I had some problems with my back four weeks long. It was very hard for me the last two months. I didn’t suspect to win in Lake Louise.”

It was not too surprising to teammates and competitors alike that Maier was once again atop the podium last weekend.

“No, I made some money on Hermann the other day,” American Bode Miller, the current defending overall champion, joked Tuesday.

“I don’t have any questions in my mind that he can win races. He can win races in every discipline he’s won them in, GS also. … You also have to remember that you’re talking about Hermann Maier. He’s been the most dominant racer of my generation. I don’t think you have to question where his ability is at. It’s just a matter of if he gets his heart and mind in the right place and wants to win.”

Teammate Michael Walchhofer sees it up-close-and-personal,

“For sure, we know he’s a good skier. We saw it all in training,” Walchhofer said. “(The win) was very good, not just for him but for the whole Austrian team. We always have a fight during the training and then you can see that it was a fight on a higher level.”

And so Maier returns to Beaver Creek for the 2008 Birds of Prey likely with a little more spring in his step. He’s won eight times at Beaver Creek, including gold in both the downhill and super-G during the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships.

Summer decision

Maier admits that he was considering calling it a career after last season. When you’ve won pretty much everything everywhere, it’s hard to find the motivation to keep going.

But Maier had what he felt was good endurance training during the summer and then skied well down in Chile in August, and decided to give it a go.

“For sure, it’s not the same,” Maier said. “I feel a little bit older. I’m not 25. Maybe you need more time. The past time, I didn’t watch so much on my body. It was a problem. I was training faster, faster and faster, and now, I feel a little bit sometimes burned (out).”

His latest ailment has been his back. It’s understandably stiff in the mornings, but he says, getting better.

Unlike most athletes nearing retirement, Maier does enjoy practicing his sport.

“I love to train with my teammates,” he said. “I love to look who is the fastest in training, nearly more training than racing. You can try new things and you can attack more. So maybe you have three, four runs. It’s nice. It’s a different feeling. It’s a shorter course, but if you win a race, it’s also nice to race.”

Glory days

One of the oldest running jokes in Birds of Prey post-race news conferences if that Maier should buy a house at Beaver Creek because he owns just about everything else here.

“It would be nice. It’s a great area here. If I get a house for free that would be very nice,” Maier joked Tuesday. “Then, I don’t have to win.”

It’s corny, but both the histories of Maier and the Birds of Prey course are intertwined. Maier was making a name for himself internationally when Golden Eagle got its first chance to host men’s World Cup racing in 1997. Maier won the first super-G on the course that year.

By the time, Vail ’99 arrived, the Herminator was in all his glory, winning the downhill and tying for gold with Norway’s Lasse Kjus in an epic super-G. And yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand so the Terminator could meet the Herminator.

Maier started the 1999-2000 with a bang in Beaver Creek, winning the downhill, super-G and giant slalom on consecutive days, further enforcing his aura of invincibility at Birds of Prey.

By the time Maier was repeating in the downhill here in 2000, it almost seemed like the rest of the circuit was racing for second. And in story-book fashion, in his first race here after the motorcycle accident, he took the downhill again in 2003.

While he hasn’t won here since then, Maier has been has always been in the mix when it comes to Birds of Prey ” 24 top-20 finishes in 25 starts. Maier ranks as a fan favorite at Beaver Creek alongside Americans Miller and Daron Rahlves, the latter now retired, when it comes to race day.

As for Maier’s future, he’s not sure. A reporter asked him Tuesday if he’s considering continuing through the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I guess everything is possible,” he said. “I’m just going race-by race. Nothing more is not so good for my brain at this age.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.

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