Beaver Creek, CO (AP by John Mossman)--Skiing on only one good ski, Hermann Maier is still better than the rest of the world on two.
Despite hitting a rock and damaging an eight-inch section of his left ski, the Austrian ace overpowered North America's most difficult downhill, winning by nearly a full second over teammate Stephan Eberharter on Saturday for his third World Cup victory in as many races this season.
Forced to over-rely on his right ski for most of his run, Maier mastered the Birds of Prey course in 1 minute, 43.77 seconds, which was .91 seconds faster than Eberharter's 1:44.68.
``After the gliding section at the top, I found a big rock and damaged the inside edge of my left ski,'' Maier said. ``That made it very difficult. It is good there are more left turns here, so I transferred my weight more to my right ski.''
The ski is ruined, Maier said, but he wasn't worried about finding a suitable replacement pair.
``Yeah, I have faster ones,'' he said.
After two quick training runs, Maier seized the favorite's role for the season's inaugural downhill, and he didn't disappoint a crowd of about 8,000 which packed the grandstand at the finish and lined the course.
Bolting out of the start house, he stayed crouched in his tuck for most of his run, nipping one gate in a bold effort to find the shortest line.
As the 14th skier on the course, Maier came across 1.31 seconds ahead of his competition. Eberharter, skiing 15th, then trimmed the margin slightly.
It was Maier's fifth victory on this demanding 3-year-old course, which features fast turns and big jumps. Previously, he won a super-G here in 1998, a downhill and super-G in the world championships last February and a giant slalom last Wednesday.
Besides his victory Wednesday, he won the season-opening GS on Oct. 31 in Tignes, France. Maier, bidding to recapture the World Cup overall title he claimed two years ago, did not compete in Tuesday's slalom here.
``This is a great downhill here,'' Maier said. ``Everything is there: gliding sections and downhill steeps. At the moment, it is very easy for me to ski this very difficult track. You have to ski very aggressive to win here.''
Maier, bothered by back problems last season, said good health is another factor in his torrid start.
``I don't feel any pain in my back,'' he said. ``I can ski on the edge and can ski comfortable. Last year, that was not possible.''
Eberharter said he was pleased with his result after disappointing training times.
``This is my favorite downhill,'' he said. ``I'm happy to beat so many good downhillers because I don't feel like a real downhiller. My love is still GS.
``Hermann has won three races and has a lot of confidence. He doesn't make many mistakes. Right now, it is very difficult to beat him, but we'll keep trying.''
Austrians claimed five of the top six positions. Italy's Kristian Ghedina was third in 1:44.89, followed by Austrians Hans Knauss, Christian Greber and Werner Franz in 1:45.08, 1:45.33 and 1:45.35, respectively.
Norway's Lasse Kjus, the defending World Cup overall and downhill champion, was seventh in 1:45.47.
Austria's Andreas Schifferer was eighth in 1:45.52, and Switzerland's Silvano Beltrametti and Paul Accola and were ninth and 10th, respectively, in 1:45.57 and 1:45.59.
Canada's Darin McBeath and Switzerland's Bruno Kernen tied for 11th at 1:45.68. Canadian Ed Podivinsky placed 13th in 1:45.70.
Chad Fleischer of Vail, cheered enthusiastically by the hometown crowd, was the top American. Fleischer, who finished second in the final downhill of last season in March, wound up 21st in 1:46.23.
Austria's Hannes Trinkl, who finished second and third in the two training runs, had a quick intermediate time but skied into soft snow and into the safety net halfway into his run. He appeared to be unscathed except for a bloody nose and lip.
Daron Rahlves of Truckee, Calif., also fell, his righht ski flying above his head as he made an awkward landing off a jump. Rahlves lay on the snow for several seconds after his crash but was uninjured.
Copyright © 1999 The Associated Press