January 28, 2006
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP by Erica Bulman)—With Bode Miller off the slopes, American Steven Nyman scored a career-best in the downhill on Saturday. Hermann Maier led an Austrian sweep at the World Cup downhill event, marking his third victory of the season and first in a downhill. Miller, the reigning overall champion, skipped the German races to rest before the Turin Olympics.
Nyman took advantage of an early start to place fourth, just 0.44 seconds behind the illustrious Maier and 0.16 from a third-place medal. Teammate Daron Rahlves, winner of three downhills this season, finished 14th in 1:58.84 after almost being thrown off the bumpy course.
``My legs are shaking. It's so exciting,'' the 23-year-old Nyman said. ``Every turn I kept saying 'You can do it!' and then I'd be like 'Yeah, I did it!'
Maier lay down exhausted at the finish after covering the 2.15-mile course in 1:57.56 for his 53rd career win. Klaus Kroell finished second in 1:57.83, improving his chances of being selected to the Austrian team for the Olympics. Andreas Buder, vying for the last Austrian spot, finished third in 1:57.84.
``At the second interval I was already so tired, I was wondering what was going on,'' Maier said. ``This race is one of the hardest I can remember. It was so fast and so bumpy, especially with a late start number the course was chopped up.
Rahlves came in the favorite after nailing two training runs. But starting 27th, the veteran struggled with the ruts and grooves.
``I hit this one bump and got high-sided, and I kind of went in there with way too much aggression today,'' Rahlves said. ``Everything was pretty good in the top part, but as soon as I hit this one bump, it knocked me way down low. I just made it into the gate and after that all my speed was gone.''[pagebreak]Nyman, who started third and benefited from a clean course, finished with a personal-best 1:58.00. His previous best was sixth in a combined in Austria. He tied for 14th in the World Cup downhill last November at Lake Louise, Alberta.
``I dreamt of doing this, but over time and with some experience,'' Nyman said. ``That's usually how downhill works, with age. But I'm just a young buck. This whole year, everything is new to me except the courses in North America.''
A junior slalom world champion in 2002, Nyman was sidetracked when he broke his left leg twice. Already qualified for the super-G and combined at the Turin Olympics, he is aiming for a downhill berth.
Miller and Rahlves have locked up two of the four spots awarded to each nation in each discipline. Nyman, Scott Macartney and Marco Sullivan are all battling for the last two spots.
Macartney finished 18th in 1:59.13, one place ahead of Sullivan.
Benjamin Raich, who abandoned the course when he missed a gate, is still the overall leader with 952 points. Reigning World Cup downhill champion Michael Walchhofer is second with 730, followed by Rahlves with 707. Miller is fourth at 688, and Maier trails him by three points.
Walchhofer, who finished with Fritz Strobl tied for 10th, leads the downhill standings with 498 points. Strobl is second at 441, while Rahlves is third with 408.
Maier, who won a super-G in Kitzbuehel and a giant slalom in Soelden, is the only man to have posted victories in at least two disciplines this season.
``What we saw today was the Hermann Maier of old,'' said Austria's race director Hans Pum, referring to the aggression Maier displayed before a 2001 motorcycle accident nearly cost him his life and his leg.
Maier dismissed this comparison.
``I'll never be the same, going to the full like before my accident,'' he said. ``But in some passages, I know I was really great. I still have the memories but to be as good as I once was, over the whole course, will never be possible again.''
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press