Austrians Skiers Give Fans a Reason to Party

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Kitzbuehel, Austria Jan. 24 (AP by Erica Bulman)--Austrian skiers gave home fans a reason to celebrate this weekend, sweeping all three World Cup races on the Hahnenkamm.

Overall leader Hermann Maier launched the festivities by capturing his first victory on the Hahnenkamm, winning Friday's super-G.

But the ``Herminator,'' who has rarely shared the spotlight this season, was forced to step aside Saturday when teammate Fritz Strobl claimed the World Cup's biggest prize: a downhill victory on the Streif course, triggering a wild celebration.

Austrian rookie Mario Matt, competing in only his third World Cup race, capped off the productive weekend with an unexpected win in Sunday's slalom, assuring that the revelry would continue long into the night for the fans who did not vacate the resort.

Not even the nonstop snowfall throughout the weekend could discourage the merrymaking, with 25,000 ecstatic fans crowding the main square for the prize-giving ceremony.

``It was great to win in front of all the fans that came to see us,'' Strobl said. ``It was especially great to race in front of so many of them, and to have them cheer me on.''

Italy's Kristian Ghedina, seeking a second downhill win on the Streif, was tied for first with Josef Strobl before Fritz Strobl's daredevil effort dropped the pair to second.

Maier also had his share of disappointment.

Though happy to finally win a race on the Hahnenkamm, the Austrian was furious at losing the downhill, the only major element he still needs in order to join the ranks of the sport's greats such as Franz Klammer, Jean-Claude Killy and Karl Schranz.

Missing the podium for only the second time in the 14 events, Maier settled for fourth, angrily kicking at one of his skis in the finish area.

``I knew on the course I wasn't fast and I thought at one point I should get off my skis and push,'' Maier said. ``I would have liked to win the downhill here.

``But I'll win in Kitzbuehel eventually. It's only a question of time.''

In losing the downhill, Maier also lost the chance to set a new Austrian record.

Having collected his 25th World Cup win in Friday's super-G, Maier could have broken Franz Klammer's record for the most World Cup victories by an Austrian man, with wins in the downhill and the combined.

Klammer is currently sixth on the overall World Cup victories list, with Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark leading with 86 wins.

``I don't care about the record,'' said Maier, who has won seven races this season. ``I just try to do my best even if I would be very proud to become the most successful Austrian skier.''

The current leader in the World Cup overall, Maier lost very little ground to Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the only skier who still has a realistic chance of catching him.

Aamodt, a talented all-rounder who placed seventh in the downhill, sixth in the super-G, seventh in the slalom and who won the combined event, collected just two points more than Maier over the weekend.

Maier, who tops the overall table with 1,310 points, holds a 352-point lead over Aamodt, second with 958.

``My win in the combined was important because I didn't want to lose too much ground,'' Aamodt said. ``If I want a chance at the overall I can't allow myself to get too far behind.'' Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press