Jan. 16, 2001–Team Austria is like an endless Viennese torte – beginning with uber-racer Hermann Maier, stacked beneath are continuous layers of multi-discipline ski talent. The Herminater’s homeland has held the Nations Cup title for four years and has a hammerlock on total race victories: the men alone boast 279 wins in the history of the World Cup circuit. While the racin’ mason helped put the ‘Power Team’ on top, Maier didn’t do it alone.
Lurking in his shadow is a wealth of talented, but more anonymous racers.
Guys like Stephan Eberharter, whose career took an injury-driven nosedive after claiming two World Championship medals in 1991. Once healthy, the Austrian powers-that-be told him to earn his place back the old fashioned way – via the second tier Europa Cup. Eberharter did so in style, winning the 1997 downhill, super G and overall titles. In his first season back on the World Cup, he placed third in the world, a position Eberharter has hovered near ever since.
Generally twice each winter, this stocky 31 year-old obstinately wins races away from Maier. Eberharter still sheepishly admits, “Fans at home call me the best kept secret on World Cup.”
He’s not alone; Christian Mayer had an overall world ranking of 82nd in 1993, the next year he won the GS globe. Still plugging away, Mayer ended last winter second only to the Herminater in GS competition. Yet he’s continuously referred to as “the other Mayer.”
Hans Knauss had a Herman-like leap in expertise after 1995, when he held 73rd spot worldwide. The next year he was the 6th best ski racer overall on the circuit and has consistently remained in those single digits. He’s won the legendary Kitzbuhel downhill and holds Olympic and World Championship medals. Sadly, at least in the States, he’s better known as the younger brother of Pro racing legend Bernard Knauss.
Besides the tenacious eclipse by Hermann Maier, Team Austria continually deals with its own endless depth; for a relatively small population, this European country continues to produce racer after epic racer. Werner Franz, second last year in super G rankings, best sums things up. He said, “At Lake Louise I was in eighth place, which was okay, but I was only the sixth best Austrian. It’s not easy – if you qualify to race you have one chance to do well. If you’re not fast, you’re done.”