Maier Ends Winless Streak

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Chamonix, France, Jan. 8 (AP by Erica Bulman)--Double Olympic and world champion Hermann Maier led an Austrian sweep in the men's downhill Saturday, ending a month-long winless streak with a victory in the first World Cup race of the year.

The ``Herminator,'' fully recharged after Christmas break, stormed down the long, grueling Kandahar course in 2 minutes, 0.51 seconds, collecting his first win since the circuit returned to Europe in early December.

``It was important for me, especially since I hadn't won in a while,'' said Maier, who collected his 24th career win. ``It's always good to win the first race of the new year.''

Teammate Stephan Eberharter was runner-up in 2:00.56, and Hannes Trinkl, the winner in Lake Louise, finished third in 2:00.68.

``It's a good result for Austria,'' Eberharter said. ``At home maybe the fans are getting blase and beginning to expect such a strong dominance from us.

``But you need to remember the work behind those results,'' he said. ``It's easy for things to go wrong, problems to develop and for things to change.''

Maier won five of the first six races he entered this season, before entering his month-long drought. In Chamonix, a refreshed and determined Maier renewed his challenge to reclaim the World Cup overall title he lost to Norway's Lasse Kjus last season.

With Kjus out with influenza, Maier's biggest challenge this season will come from his own teammates. Six Austrians finished among the top seven, and nine among the top-12.

``This time it was Hermann who won but the next time it will be one of us,'' Eberharter said. ``There was only a small difference in time. Part of it is luck.

``Most skiers are busting their butts just to be where we are,'' he said. ``I'm busting my butt to win and it will happen.''

Maier has six wins this season, two in the downhill, two in the super-G and another pair in the giant slalom. He leads the overall World Cup standings with 940 points, 420 ahead of Eberharter. Maier also leads the downhill by 380 points.

Italian Kristian Ghedina, who posted the fastest times in the final two training sessions, finished a disappointing fourth, .37 seconds off the pace.

``It actually helped that Ghedina dominated the training and had such good results recently,'' Maier said. ``It motivated me and forced me to boost my concentration and be more aggressive today.''

Austrian Josef Strobl finishing fifth in 2:00.95, ahead of teammates Hans Knauss in 2:01.15 and Andreas Schifferer in 2:01.20.

Daron Rahlves, of Truckee, Calif., was the top U.S. skier, finishing tied for 28th place with a time of 2:03.65. Christopher Puckett, of Crested Butte, Colo., came in 36th at 2:03.94, and Jakub Fiala, of Breckenridge, Colo., was 53rd at 2:05.40.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press