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Austrians Take Top Four
Men's GS: Sölden, AUT
Sunday, Oct. 25, 1998
[Click for Women's GS Story]

Hermann Maier Maier proves it again
Hermann Maier celebrated another impressive win on Sunday in this opening World Cup race of the 1998-'99 season. The double Olympic champion beat his teammate Stephan Eberharter by 1.60 seconds on the demanding Rettenbach glacier course. His 12th World Cup win, itís also his first since the Olympics at Nagano.

Following their teammates closely were Heinz Schilchegger and Christian Mayer, grabbing third and fourth, respectively. Itís the first time that Schilchegger has reached a spot on a World Cup podium.

"I wanted to prove today that I will fight hard to defend my position. In the second run I was again 'The Herminator' as last winter..."Hermann Maier

The reigning GS World Champion Michael von Gruenigen got a strong 5th despite a lack of training. A foot injury last summer has prevented him from training as hard as usual. He took 2nd in Sölden in 1996.

Men's Podium Men's Podium
Two more Austrians were among the top ten along with Norwayís Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Aamodt. The Scandinavian pair may have a hard time contesting Hermannís superiority in the Overall World Cup battle if he remains healthy.

Despite difficult weather conditions that several times postponed the start, including snow showers and strong gusts of wind, the 25-year-old Maier, from Flachau, continues to earn his nickname, "The Herminator." These conditions seem only to favor the very concentrated Maier and his success today created great excitement among the thousands of spectators attending the competition.

"I was nervous, but apparently the pressure helps me to be very focused and to reach my best level," said Maier after the race. "In training I was not so strong and Iím still not in my best shape. I wanted to prove today that I will fight hard to defend my position. In the second run I was again 'The Herminator' as last winter.

Hermann Maier Maier Dominates Race
"I didnít train as much as I wanted this summer but I still have some time to improve my form before the Worlds at Vail which are my main goals this season. Itís easier to be confident and aggressive when you feel in good shape," the former bricklayer said. "I donít plan to specialize myself in one discipline — I enjoy to compete in each event. Itís also more interesting this way."

In the post-race press conference, Maier was asked about the rumors of doping which have been raised lately. "I heard about them but they didnít prevent me to be very concentrated today," he answered calmly. "I have nothing to hide — I have worked hard to reach this level. People should know how hard we trained in our team before they talk. Our group is extremely competitive. In fact my main goal today was a top-3 finish. I didnít expect to win with such a margin. It gives me great momentum before the next races. But the season is long and I hope to improve my form before the next competitions in America," he said.

Stephan Eberharter was not surprised by Hermannís strong performance. "We all know how strong he is in difficult weather conditions as today but I believe I can get much closer," said the skier from Tyrol. "I made too many mistakes in the first run to have a serious chance to beat him, so Iím pleased by this result. Itís a good starting point for me. I can still appreciate a second place".

Hermann Maier Herminator shows his soft side
"I donít mind all the attention that Hermann is getting right now — itís good for me since I can prepare myself in a more relaxed surrounding," Eberharter said.

His Austrian trainers said that Stephan has worked longer and harder than his teammates during the off-season trying to improve his form. "He will be a top contender for many wins because he is much more confident and determined than last season," said head coach Werner Margreiter. "He is not afraid to believe he can beat Maier."

It was also a good day for US skiing with two out of three Americans finishing in the points. Paul Casey Puckett and Dane Spencer both qualified for the second run. It was a great comeback for Casey, who tore the meniscus in his right knee after the 1997 season and who hasnít scored World Cup points for years. Last winter, he qualified again for the World Cup tour by winning the Overall and GS Nor-Am Cups.

"Itís a very promising result since I made a bad mistake in the pitch in the first run," explained the 26-year-old from Crested Butte, Colorado. "Itís only the first race of the season and I didnít take all the risks in the 2nd run," he said. "I wanted to come through but I can ski much faster. Itís given me great confidence and momentum before Park City."

Spencer scored his first World Cup points by coming in 31st, a good way to start the season after an injury to his back in the middle of last season. Dane, who will turn 21 on Christmas Day, is considered a great talent in giant slalom. He won the US combined title last winter.

The World Cup tour will now take a three-week break until the races in Park City, Utah, where Hermann won his first GS a year ago.

— Mountain Zone European Ski Correspondent

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