February 10, 2005
BORMIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Hermann Maier let out a scream in the finish area at the world championships, a major title finally his again.
His victory in the giant slalom Thursday was yet another inspirational step in his recovery from a motorcycle accident in which he nearly lost a leg. This was the Austrian's first gold medal at the worlds since he captured two in 1999 in Vail, Colo.
Two years later, he collided with a car near his hometown. Surgeons inserted screws and a 14-inch titanium rod in his tibia. At one point, doctors feared he might be paralyzed.
``It's a great feeling for me because so many things have happened since this time six years ago,'' Maier said. ``All the medals I've won are important, but this one has an even more specific meaning, after my crash being able to stand back up so to speak.''
Another Austrian, Benjamin Raich, finished second, and Daron Rahlves of the United States won the bronze in a race postponed Wednesday when Italian TV workers went on strike. Defending champion Bode Miller needed two stitches on his chin after he lost control on the first run and slammed into an advertising banner.
Maier, second after the first leg, covered the two runs on the Stelvio course in 2 minutes, 50.41 seconds. He had won only one other race this season, last month's super giant slalom in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Raich had the fastest second run, moving up from seventh after the opening leg. He finished 0.25 seconds behind for his third medal of the worlds, following the bronze in the super-G and the gold in the combined. Rahlves, the first-run leader, was 0.68 back.
Rahlves was the final elite skier in the second leg. Maier dropped to his knees to watch the American ski the final few gates. After seeing Rahlves' time, Maier bellowed and thrust his arms in the air toward his fans.
``This is a very important victory for me, especially on this course which is very, very difficult,'' Maier said. ``Daron was super on the first run and I knew he had six-tenths of a second, so I had to be very good on my second run.''
Maier, a former brick layer, crashed spectacularly in the downhill at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, only to get back up and win two gold medals in the next few days.
``You can't compare this with Nagano,'' he said. ``In Nagano, I was perfectly well.''
Miller, the defending champion, has supplanted Maier as the world's top skier this season. The American goes for his third gold in Saturday's slalom after winning the super-G and downhill. He also will race in the new team event that will conclude the championships Sunday.
Rahlves, who finished second behind Miller in the downhill at these worlds, posted his best giant slalom result.
``I'm still disappointed. I knew I'd have to go for it but I was too round, too loose at the top,'' Rahlves said, referring to his second run. ``But the best thing for me today is to know my GS is there.''
Maier finished fourth in the super-G at these championships and 17th in the downhill. He has struggled this season after switching boots. This was his fourth top-three giant slalom finish this season but first victory. In fact, this was Maier's first giant slalom win in any race since his accident.
Giant slalom is Maier's favorite discipline, and he won the event at the 1998 Olympics. He missed the 2002 Olympics while rehabilitating his shattered leg and returned for the second half of the 2002-03 season, then captured his fourth overall World Cup title last year.
After the 24-hour postponement at these worlds, most of Maier's fans paid an extra day's hotel bill to see him ski. Maier rewarded them with his fifth gold at a major championship, and perhaps something more.
``I will pay for their rooms maybe with this prize money,'' he said.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press