Maier Out to Regain Overall Title

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Maier 03 09 04

SESTRIERE, Italy, Mar. 10 2004 (AP by Erica Bulman) -- The championship was his for three years. Now, Hermann Maier wants it back.

The Austrian skier is in position to win the overall World Cup title, a remarkable accomplishment considering he nearly lost a leg in a motorcycle accident 2 1/2 years ago.

"It would be the right thing if I won it," said Maier, who took skiing's most prestigious trophy in 1998, 2000 and 2001. "I was the best before my accident."

On Tuesday, Maier struggled to a 16th-place finish in downhill training. He was a distant 2.74 seconds behind leader and countryman Fritz Strobl.

Maier tops the overall standings with 1,165 points and just four races remaining this season -- a downhill, super giant slalom, giant slalom and slalom this week at the World Cup Finals. He's 67 points ahead of American Bode Miller, a threat in all disciplines.

Maier also is being chased by teammates Stephan Eberharter, the defending champion who's third with 1,083 points; and technical specialist Benjamin Raich, fourth with 1,063.

Maier plans to compete in the downhill, super-G and giant slalom, while Miller is to race in all four events. Eberharter won't ski the slalom, and Raich plans to compete in all four.

"This is like a dream. It's amazing to be in the position I am in," said Maier, also a double Olympic gold medalist. "I never would have expected this at the start of the season."

Maier is making one of the most amazing comebacks in sports, stunning himself, fans and competitors alike.

Pulled from the wreckage when a car hit his motorcycle in Radstadt, Austria, in August 2001, Maier was close to kidney failure and amputation of a leg. He underwent seven hours of surgery during which a 14-inch titanium rod was screwed into his shattered shin bone.

He had to learn to walk again, then underwent a grueling rehab program just to be able to stand on skis. Still, Maier was determined to return to the World Cup circuit, and his comeback has been anything but symbolic.

"He is very strong in his head. It was true before and hasn't changed," Austrian coach Hans Pum said. "It was a very long journey.

"Definitely in skiing I can't think of a bigger or more dramatic comeback."

Maier already has reclaimed the super-G World Cup title he held from 1998-01, and he'll try to complete his comeback in the downhill Wednesday.

The men's super-G is scheduled for Thursday, the giant slalom for Saturday and slalom for Sunday.

The Kandahar course could be troublesome for Maier.

"It's very tough for me," he said. "It's a problem that I've never skied on this course. Here some skiers raced at the world championships and in Europa Cup competition. They have a big advantage over me."

Maier refuses to put any internal pressure or label himself the favorite.

"I'm not in the best shape," he said. "I'm not in the shape I was in before I was injured, but hopefully I can challenge the odds again. At least tomorrow and the day after."

Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press