More crystal Awaiting `Herminator'

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Bormio, Italy Mar. 14 (AP by Erica Bulman)--Austrian powerhouse Hermann Maier has already won the season's overall World Cup title. Three other titles are within reach when the World Cup finals open Wednesday in this Italian Alpine resort.

Maier has so far recaptured the overall crown from last year's champion, Lasse Kjus of Norway, pocketed the super-G title and broken the season record for points.

The ``Herminator'' also holds a commanding 83-point advantage over teammate Christian Mayer in the giant slalom standings and is 63 points ahead of Italy's Kristian Ghedina in the downhill rankings.

``I don't have the titles yet but I hope to when this is all over,'' said the 27-year-old Maier, who clinched the overall and super-G titles last week. ``I'll celebrate my titles when the season is over. I'll party for weeks and weeks.''

Daron Rahlves of Truckee, Calif., who shocked the field earlier this month with consecutive downhill victories in Norway, hopes to be a threat again in Bormio.

``Now that I've won, I know I can do it again,'' Rahlves said.

The fast and bumpy Stelvio downhill course _ site of both the men's and women's event _ is among the most demanding on the circuit. Rahlves said it was so rough in training Tuesday that it felt like skiing down a flight of stairs.

Skiers clock speeds of over 130 kph (80 mph).

For Maier, adding the downhill and giant slalom crystal globes to his trophy case would increase his season total to four, the most for any man or woman since 1987 when Switzerland's Pirmin Zurbriggen won five.

Maier is also seeking to complete another pet Millennium project: becoming the first skier to amass over 2,000 points.

``That's my big motivation,'' said Maier, who last week shattered Paul Accola's record of 1,699 points, set by the Swiss skier in 1992 when he won the overall title.

Maier has 1,820 points with four races _ each worth a maximum of 100 points _ remaining. The Austrian seldom races slalom so at most he can hope to collect 300 points.

``I still have a chance to reach 2,000,'' Maier said.

Maier is also tied with American Phil Mahre for most top-three finishes in a season. The American got his in a 33-event season in 1982; the men will have had 40 this season.

Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who lost any chance at the overall title a few weeks ago, is skipping Wednesday's downhill to save energy for the slalom _ a title he has never won and badly wants.

The veteran Norwegian leads the slalom standings with 558 points, 80 more than Slovenia's Matjaz Vrhovnik.

On the women's side, Renate Goetschl is aiming to give Austria its second World Cup overall title. With 1,470 points, Goetschl has a huge 223-point lead over her only remaining rival, teammate Michaela Dorfmeister.

Goetschl, 24, has already locked up the super-G title and is running a close second behind Regina Haeusl in the chase for the prestigious downhill globe, trailing the German by 36 points.

Slovenia's Spela Pretnar leads the slalom standings with 616 points, 35 points ahead of Christel Saioni of France.

Dorfmeister, who dominated the start of the season but has slumped in recent weeks, tops the giant slalom table with 604 points. But Switzerland's Sonja Nef has won the last two races and trails the leader by only 38 points.

The high-profile 2000 finals, which run through Sunday, for the first time also feature cross-country, Nordic combined, freestyle and snowboarding _ all events under the International Ski Federation (FIS) umbrella.

The formula was created to provide competitive focus in a year without Olympic Games or world championships, as well as to celebrate the millennium.

In the cross country events, Johan Muehlegg, a former German who now races under Spanish colors, wrapped up the men's World Cup overall nine days ago, outdistancing Finland's Jari Isomatsae by 288 points with only two races to go.

On the women's side, the race remaiins wide open. Estonia's Kristina Smigun leads with 1,085 points, just 41 ahead of defending World Cup champion Bente Martinsen of Norway. Russia's double Olympic champion, Larissa Lazutina, is also in the running with 1,008.

Finland's Samppa Lajunen has already captured the Nordic combined World Cup title, with reigning world and Olympic champion Bjarte Engen Vik of Norway secure in second. Czech Ladislav Rygl sits third.

In snowboarding, Swede Thomas Johansson has already secured the men's halfpipe crown, while the women's title remains a duel between Sabine Wehr-Hasler of Germany and Tricia Byrnes of the United States.

The winners of the overall trophy in each sport will travel to Rome in April to meet Pope John Paul II, a former skier.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press