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Hermann Maier
Maier with three World Cups and two Olympic Golds from '97-'98
The Herminator is Back
Men's Alpine '98-'99 Season Preview

Can he do it again?

The "Herminator" is back and everybody is anxious to see which are his newest secrets: during the European World Cup Opening this weekend (Oct. 25) on the Retenbach glacier above Austria’s Sölden, thousands of spectators and fans are expecting the hero from last season to crush his rivals in the same impressive way that he did last winter in the first giant slalom of the '98-'99 season.

The 25-year-old skier from Flachau, Austria, has been working hard in recent months to build a strong form after numerous days of celebrations around his country and the rest of the world. This spring, the double Olympic Champion even traveled to Los Angeles to take part in Jay Leno’s Late Night TV show. He also met with one of his idols, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at Planet Hollywood where he left a pair of racing skis in honor of his famous compatriot, who inspired his now famous nickname "The Herminator."

In March 1998, Maier became only the second Austrian to clinch the Overall World Cup title, doing so 28 years after Karl Schranz. Accumulating victories, glory and money throughout last winter, Maier will now try to reinforce his position as the world's #1 skier (Alberto Tomba left the white scene for the movie business in Rome).

Hermann Maier
Maier in Action in Nagano '98
Maier knows that he will have a hard time repeating his extraordinary past season — only his second on the World Cup tour. A former bricklayer and ski instructor until October 1995, Maier astonished the "White Circus" last year with his very aggressive technique and his great talent which allowed him to win 12 times in four specialties: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Downhill and Combined.

Hermann will impress even more if he can repeat all or part of his amazing achievement. No skier has been able to dominate the international field as long as since Ingemar Stenmark. Stenmark, the Swedish superstar, is recognized by his peers as the all-time best Alpine Ski Racer with 86 wins, three Overall World Cup titles, five Olympic gold medals and World Championship titles from 1974 to 1989. Past top champions such as Switzerland's Pirmin Zurbriggen or Marc Ghiradelli from Luxembourg as well as Italy’s Tomba had to struggle to retain their status as the best athletes for even two consecutive years.

Tomba, winner of 11 events in 1988, including a double Olympic triumph, would only celebrate one success the year after. The racer from Bologna had to wait until 1992 to propel himself back to the top when he became the first alpine skier to successfully defend an Olympic title in Giant Slalom (besides his nine wins on the World Cup Tour). He saw disappointment again in both '93 and '94, but he was back at the top in 1995 when he clinched his first Overall World Cup title thanks to 11 individual wins.

Aside from some concrete goals, like winning "a few" gold medals at Vail during the 1999 Ski World Championships, "The Herminator" also aims to win the Downhill World Cup title which he lost last season because of injuries to his foot and back in January and March, respectively.

He is again mentally ready to take all risks to defend his position. "He remains very motivated because he likes to ski fast and to win" said his girlfriend Petra earlier this fall. "He wants to confirm his past results and he trained hard to stay in good shape."

The combination of Hermann’s physical and technical potential, his dedication and his excellent equipment will make it difficult for his rivals to beat him on demanding courses. His background as a long-time instructor, and on all snow conditions, helps him handle the difficulties of the terrain much better than his rivals who don’t spent much time freeskiing.

The danger for Maier in the quest for the Overall World Cup title will come from two former Cup winners, the Norwegians Kjetil Aamodt and Lasse Kjus and two of his teammates who finished right behind him in last year’s standings, Andreas Schifferer and Stefan Eberharter. These skiers are the only ones who can win races in several disciplines.

The Austrian team, who clinched all the World Cups and more than a half of all the competitions, should again dominate the season. Thomas Sykora and Thomas Stangassinger have ruled the slalom for a long time. In this specialty, the Norwegians too have a strong group with the reigning Olympic Champion Hans Peter Buraas and his friends Jagge, Furuseth and Stiansen.

Among the few other individuals who still hope to beat the powerful Austrian commandos in the speed events are Italy’s downhill star Kristian Ghedina, France’s Jean Luc Cretier, the 1998 Downhill Olympic Champion, Switzerland’s Didier Cuche, Nagano's silver medalist in Super-G and another young Frenchman, Nicolas Burtin.

In Giant Slalom, Switzerland’s Michael von Grunigen is aiming to achieve a last great season. The reigning World Champion from Sestriere, who is 29, became a father for the second time last spring. The best GS specialist in '96 and '97, "Mike" was the only real threat to the best Austrians, Maier and Christian Mayer, a double winner in '97-'98. An elegant and superb technician, von Grunigen likes the hill at Vail where he has won twice. He came 2nd in Sölden in October 1996 while the then unknown Maier skied out. Nothing would make him happier than a victory over his great rival on Austrian snow.

Last season, Canada’s Thomas Grandi was the only North American skier to climb onto the winners’ podium in Park City where he was 3rd in a Giant Slalom. His teammates from the normally stronger Downhill team had a disappointing season as well as the US athletes. A new era is starting for the American team, which lost two of its most famous representatives, AJ Kitt and Tommy Moe, the 1994 Downhill Olympic Champion. Both skiers faced a series of injuries over the past years and they decided to chase dollars this winter on a US pro tour instead of remaining on the World Cup circuit. At that point, any top-10 result by a North American racer has to be seen as a success.

— from our Mountain Zone European Correspondent

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