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Hermannator Takes Birds of Prey Downhill

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. Dec. 6, 2003 (AP by John Mossman)--About two years ago, a motorcycle accident nearly cost Hermann Maier his right leg.

One year ago, Maier watched the World Cup races at Beaver Creek on TV and doubted he would ever compete at the same level again.

On Saturday, the Austrian ace won a World Cup downhill, finishing nearly a second ahead of teammate Hans Knauss to lead an Austrian sweep of the top three places.

It was Maier's second victory of the season and 44th of his career. It also vaulted Maier into first place in the overall standings, a title he has won three times.

``Last year at this time, I watched this race at a friend's bar and drank some beers,'' Maier said. ``I thought maybe it's not possible to ski again on this level.

``One year later, I've won this race, and that's a big dream for me. This is very special. It's wonderful. A lot has changed from last year to this year.'' It helped that Maier switched skis, using a set better suited to the gliding section at the top of the course.

``Yesterday I lost the race on the top section,'' said Maier, who finished fifth in Friday's downhill. ``If you are slow there, it's very difficult to make up time.

``Today I was great up there. I made a good run and I had very good equipment. It was technically a good race for me.''

He finished in 1 minute, 39.76 seconds, while Knauss came across in 1:40.71. Andreas Schifferer was third in 1:40.95 on the demanding Birds of Prey course. Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Calif., who won Friday, was fourth in 1:41.01. Austrians Klaus Kroell and Michael Walchhofer were fifth and sixth, helping the powerful Austrian team claim seven of the top nine places.

Maier, whose comeback began with a victory last season in a super giant slalom in Kitzbuehel, Austria, still has numbness in his right leg but said it is improving.

``It's much better,'' he said. ``I only have problems with the knee.'' The 1998 Olympic gold medalist had the second-fastest time on the gliding section and maintained his quick pace to the finish.

Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein, the fourth skier on the course, set the early pace and wound up seventh. Knauss, running 14th, bettered Buechel's time, and Maier, running 16th, was even faster.

Knauss was pleased with his result after having a fast run on Friday but skiing wide on one of the final turns and missing a gate.

``Yesterday I pulled out when I was in the lead,'' he said. ``It was a stupid mistake. So I had to come to the finish today. I'm really happy to have a result like this.''

American star Bode Miller made a mistake for a second straight day. Miller, who was thrown back on his skis and crashed Friday, lost control on a jump and missed a gate Saturday.

Austria's Stephan Eberharter, the defending World Cup overall and downhill champion, was 12th in 1:41.76.

Wind picked up during runs by Rahlves and Eberharter.

``The wind at the top, it just started blowing hard three guys before I went to the start,'' Rahlves said. ``That wasn't very helpful. I'm kind of surprised I was fourth.''

Eberharter agreed that the timing of the wind was unfortunate.

``We were four- or five-tenths off the pace in the flat part, and that's too much,'' he said.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press

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