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WENGEN, Switzerland, Jan. 17 (AP by Erica Bulman)–While Hermann Maier might not have anyone too close to him at the top of the World Cup standings, a confident Kjetil Andre Aamodt is beginning to chip away at Maier’s lead.
Maier, who only days ago looked to have an unassailable lead atop the World Cup standings, no longer seemed quite so secure at the end of the weekend.
The result left the Austrian with 1100 points atop the standings, 454 ahead of Aamodt.
Aamodt picked up a few valuable points with his 12th place finish in Saturday’s downhill, before scoring 100 more with his victory in Sunday’s slalom, allowing him to narrow the gap.
Buoyed by the historic victory _ a win that landed him in the record books as only the fourth skier ever to win in all five alpine events _ the Norwegian realized the task of catching Maier may not be impossible.
“Of course it’s not easy to catch up to someone like Maier, who can win every weekend, in three disciplines,” said Aamodt, the 1994 overall World Cup champion, and runnerup in 1993, `97 and `99. “But anything is possible.
“In 1993 I was far behind Marc Girardelli and with five races left, I collected 480 points,” Aamodt recalled. “I lost, but only by very little.”
Maier easily pulled away from the rest of the men’s field this season, winning six races and climbing the podium in 11 of the 12 races he’d entered.
Oddly, his greatest threat remains Aamodt, despite the fact the Norwegian only won his first proper race in three years Sunday, claiming only victories in three combined events since taking a giant slalom in Adelboden in 1997.
Focused on reclaiming the overall crown he lost to Norway’s Lasse Kjus last season, Maier was able to pad his lead atop the table with a second place finish in Saturday’s downhill behind teammate Josef Strobl.
But abstaining from Sunday’s slalom _ the only event in which he does not regularly compete _ Maier allowed Aamodt to gain some ground, as the Norwegian reduced the gap to a more feasible 354.
Aamodt has been fighting to regain the coveted crown he won six years ago, falling short on two occasions since, when he finished runnerup to France’s Luc Alphand in 1997 and again last season to Kjus.
“It’s my goal to win the overall title one more time in my career,” Aamodt said. “I’ve finished second and was so close to winning three times. I want another win.”
Both Maier and Aamodt will have an opportunity to strengthen their campaigns next week on the famed Hahnenkamm, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a race-packed weekend, featuring a downhill, super-G, slalom and combined event.
Maier, who has won practically everything there is to win in ski racing, including Olympic and world golds, the World Cup overall, super-G and giant slalom crowns, along with 24 World Cup victories, has yet to master the legendary Strief, a feat considered as significant as capturing Olympic gold.
Having won both super-Gs this season, Maier heads into the weekend virtually assured a big payday in at least that event.
But it could be an even bigger weekend for Aamodt.
Fired up by his landmark slalom victory Sunday, Aamodt is aiming for a second straight win in the discipline for more points, and has won the combined in Kitzbuehel the past two years.
He can also gain additional points in the downhill and super-G, further leaving Maier with a diminished lead.