Kitzbuhel, Austria Jan. 21, 2002 (AP)--Hermann Maier has ended months of speculation by announcing that he will not be competing at next month's Salt Lake City Olympics. Maier, who was injured in a serious motorbike crash last August, said that he is close to racing, but not close enough to take the risk. "This was a very difficult decision for me because I worked very hard after the crash," said 29 year old Maier speaking at a live news conference in Kitzbuhel last week. "Its hard because the Olympics were the reason I started to train when I was still in bed at the hospital, but it's too dangerous for my career right now, I can't risk it."
"Its very hard on us," said Hans Pum, the Austrian team's Alpine Director. "He was the best skier for the last three years and he won a lot. We'd hoped there would be enough time before the Olympics for him to come back, but unfortunately it's not so." Pum said it would be interesting to see how Maier's absence would affect teammates and foes. "In the past, everyone knew they had to beat Hermann to win," he said. "Now they are perhaps psychologically free."
American Daron Rahlves was troubled by Maier's announcement. "Itsunfortunate," Rahlves said. "As an athlete, I want to go over there andhave all the best guys in the world at the start gate and I want to bethe fastest on a day that everybody's there. So, in one way, it mighttake away something. "But it's not going to change the way I look at theOlympics, the only thing it's going to do is maybe let others have theirstory there".
International Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper said there wasa good chance Maier would be prevented from participating at the Games,had he chosen to try. "It's too bad for the sport and for Hermann thathe can't defend his title, but he's not in top form," Kasper said. "Andthere's a rule which says national associations are not allowed toregister an athlete who is not completely healthy".
Maier, already a double-gold Olympic medallist and reigning World Cupchampion, said he couldn't ski the way he wanted to. His left leg isstill numb and he is unable to properly apply pressure on his right leg.
"We fully support this decision," said Peter Schroecksnadel, Presidentof the Austrian Ski Federation. "The attempt to set Olympic records hasoften backfired. We didn't want to run that risk in this case. That'swhy we support this decision in this situation."
Maier plans to take a holiday and begin his training again in Februaryor March. He won't be watching the Olympics on television, saying hewants to travel to a remote island with no televisions so he won't haveto see what he's missing.