Un-Flashy Austrian May Shine in Turin

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February 9, 2006

SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)—He publishes his home address and phone number on his Web site. His main sponsor is an insurance company. He parties very little, and you will be hard-pressed to find him on many magazine covers. But what Benjamin Raich lacks in flash, he makes up for on the slopes.The 27-year-old Austrian is one of the best downhill skiers in the world and has a shot at taking home five medals at the Turin Olympics _ even as American Bode Miller and fellow countryman Hermann Maier bask in the spotlight."He's a nice guy. He sits back and he skis, said Daron Rahlves, who has learned to live in Miller's shadow despite being the most successful U.S. men's speed skier in history. "He doesn't make a lot of controversy or get all hyped up _ he's more of a true athlete instead of a showman.While last winter's world championship headlines were dominated by Miller's superb performance in the speed events and his one-ski acrobatics in the combined, Raich quietly amassed medals in four of the five individual events.He took gold in the slalom and combined, silver in the giant slalom and bronze in the super-G.Raich was runner-up to Miller in last season's overall World Cup standings, and has finished in the top 10 every year since 1999. He holds a pair of world championship gold medals and is the overall World Cup standings leader.Appropriately, even one of Raich's two bronze medals at the 2002 Olympics was awarded to him in near-obscurity.He had crossed fourth in the slalom at Salt Lake but improved one position when Britain's Alain Baxter was stripped of his third place after testing positive for a banned stimulant.At the time, Raich refused to accept the medal. But under intense pressure from his national federation, he reluctantly received the medal at a small ceremony in Austria almost 10 months later.[pagebreak]Raich (pronounced rike) is not even the most popular skier in his own country.According to a poll taken by the national bank that sponsors Maier, 97 percent of Austrians have heard of the double Olympic champion. In that poll, Maier was more widely known than the country's leading politician.Maier has launched a "Herminator granola bar, a video game, has written a book and made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1998 after his famous crash at the Nagano Olympics. A movie is currently in the works about his comeback from a 2001 motorcycle crash that nearly killed him.Miller has several agents, wrote a book, and has his own radio talk show. He launched his "joinbode.com Web site after signing a mammoth deal with Nike and made the covers of Time and Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.In October, Miller infuriated skiing officials by calling for liberalized drug testing.Then he made headlines by saying in a "60 Minutes interview: "If you ever tried to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy. He also suggested in Rolling Stone Magazine that Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs.Meanwhile, the cherub-faced Raich grabs few headlines and maintains a low-key lifestyle. He stirs no trouble and wanders his family's farm forests in his off time."Because I am not American, and I did not crash in Nagano, Raich says in explaining his lack of fame.Instead of an agent, Raich gets his sister and mother to deal with fan mail."AUTOGRAPHS: Send to my address a marked and sufficiently stamped envelope and I send to you immediately an autograph, says a note at the bottom of his Web page.Even there, Raich shares the attention. His Web site has a section about sister and former skier Carina, as well as girlfriend Marlies Schild _ the winner of three World Cup slaloms this season.But Raich is grateful for any attention he can attract."I heard a lot of things about Bode. I'm not sure that what he is saying is always what he really thinks, Raich said. "I want the media attention. I think it's important for me and the sport. It's how I live from my job.Raich has no books or movie deals, but he did have the bridge he bungee jumps off in Pitztal named after him."He's not the same person as Miller or Maier, sure, but he makes his own way, Austrian skier Michael Walchhofer said. "I think it's not so important to talk always. But if he says something, people will listen more carefully.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press