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January 19, 2006
KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP by Eugene Brcic)—Hermann Maier and Daron Rahlves have a combined 12 podium finishes on the treacherous Hahnenkamm course over the last five years.
The pair will be back this weekend when the men’s World Cup circuit returns to the most prestigious stop on the tour.
Maier, who has won four super-G titles and a downhill in Kitzbuehel, has only one victory this season _ the opening giant slalom. Rahlves, who has previously won a super-G and a downhill, has won three downhills.
When races start Friday, both Maier and Rahlves will be looking for their first super-G title of the season.
Bode Miller, who finished 28th in the opening training Tuesday, is also a threat.
“Miller definitely has a chance here,” said Maier, adding the course suits Miller because there are few high jumps until the end.
Rahlves became the first non-Austrian to win in the discipline on the Streifalm track two years ago, snapping Maier’s stranglehold on the event by 0.03 seconds.
Although Rahlves had won gold in the super-G at the 2001 world championships, it was his first title in the event on the World Cup circuit.
Maier, who avenged the loss a year later, beat the American by an even narrower margin, 0.02 seconds.
“We go head to head again tomorrow, we’ll see what happens,” Rahlves said. “He’s tough, he’s fast and always hard to beat.”[pagebreak]Friday’s super-G will be followed by the downhill, the venue’s top event. The Streif, which favors those who go all out rather than those who like to glide, is considered the world’s most daunting course.
The notorious slope includes the Mausefalle (Mousetrap) near the start, with a 60-degree vertical drop and sharp turns. In the Steilhung section, skiers reach speeds of about 62 mph before approaching the Laerchenschuss and Hausbergkante corner near the bottom of the hill, where final speeds can top 78 mph.
Scores of racers have suffered horrendous injuries on the Streif, while others regularly pull out of contention before racing even begins after inspecting its icy opening drop.
“It’s the Super Bowl of skiing,” Rahlves said.
Maier, a double Olympic champion, said he never dares to go full throttle on the course.
“The Streif challenges you right from the start. You get very, very close to the edge of the slope and the nets. I have never skied down the entire Streif at full speed,” he said.
Another favorite to master the Hahnenkamm’s speed races is Olympic champion Fritz Strobl, who posted the fastest time in the opening downhill training session Tuesday.
Both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s training runs were canceled due to heavy snowfall, forcing the starting order of the race to be determined by the World Cup’s official ranking system.
Strobl won the downhill here twice, in 1997 and 2000. He leads the downhill standings with 415 points, 43 ahead of Michael Walchhofer and 85 in front of Rahlves.
Super-G leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Erik Guay of Canada are also strong contenders, but perhaps still lack the experience to tame the Streif.
This year’s downhill will also count as part of the combined, a so-called “paper race,” which adds the times of the downhill with Sunday’s slalom.
Giorgio Rocca is the overwhelming favorite to win the slalom. Rocca has won all five races held this season and he wants to match the record of seven in a row, set by fellow Italian Alberto Tomba more than a decade ago.
“It is possible,” Rocca said. “I think that I found the key to skiing without mistakes.”
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press