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For Maier, Games Were a Crashing Success

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 1998; Page D11

 The Herminator
 Hermann Maier leaves the Winter Olympics with medals, respect in tow.
(Ruben Sprich/Reuters)

NAGANO, Feb. 19 — Hermann Maier has conquered the world. Now he is shooting for Mars.

Maier left the 1998 Winter Olympics for a vacation in Guam this morning, and he did so with two gold medals and the greatest highlight reel of these Olympics — a clip of his own, horrifying, crash in the men's downhill, a spill that took place at nearly 70 miles per hour, took Maier through three fences, and captivated the world. Asked today what he could do to one-up his Olympic experience, Maier laughed.

"Maybe we will make holidays on Mars or something," he said.

Maier arrived in Nagano as the world's most prominent skier, with hopes of capturing three gold medals and returning his nation to skiing prominence. He left having won two of those three medals — he lost the downhill as a result of the crash — as well as the respect of Olympic skiing legend Alberto Tomba, the adoration of his Austrian countrymen, and the attention of the entire Olympic-watching world.

Big, blonde, and self-deprecating, Maier knows that his Olympics will be remembered as much for the medal he lost as for the medals he has won. He knows that the tape of his crash has been replayed, worldwide, time and time again since he did his pinwheel across the Alpine skiing slope in Hakuba and into the protective fences. He hears it is spectacular footage. He wouldn't know.

"I cannot watch," said Maier, who has yet to view a replay of the crash that left him with a sore shoulder, swollen knee, and sore back — but no injury so severe that he did not conquer the mountain in both the men's Super-G and giant slalom over the week following his crash.

"I do not think it would be good for me to watch. Maybe I'm scared."

Maier may not have watched the clip that surely will long outlast these Olympic Games, but those close to him have.

His mother reportedly needed to be sedated after she saw her son's wipe-out, a crash that most observers, on first look, feared might be fatal. His girlfriend — who was at the mountain in Hakuba on the day of the accident — has watched the replay, but only with her hands over her eyes, as if she were viewing some kind of horror movie.

And both have steadfastly encouraged Maier not to hold his own private screening. While the world may know how incredibly frightening his tumble happened to be, Maier is apparently in the dark.

A 26-year-old who was a bricklayer by trade just two years ago, Maier attacks his sport with an abandon that is at once impressive and questionable. He flies through courses at speeds that even other skiers consider terrifying.

His Austrian teammate, Hans Knauss, has described him as one who skis "more than 110 percent." His girlfriend has described him as a man who "wants to be an alien."

Maier does not disagree. In both the Super-G-which he won 72 hours after his disastrous crash — and today's giant slalom, he skied like a man ready to either a) conquer the world or b) fly off into the stratosphere.

"Before the Olympics I was favored in four disciplines, and there was a lot of pressure," Maier said. "After the crash, I fell on my head, so it was a little better. I lost the pressure, so I won in Super-G and in giant slalom."

Maier could have returned to the slopes Saturday morning and attempted to win a third gold medal in the men's slalom, but, apparently, that race is too tame. He chose instead to fly off to Guam for a break before the World Cup next month. And he left the slalom challenge to Tomba, who would like one more Olympic medal — he has five, two of them gold — before he retires from the Games.

"He is cool," Tomba said of Maier, after crashing in his first run of the giant slalom this morning. "He only follows his instincts. He is like myself in 1988. He is great for skiing."

Like Tomba, known worldwide as "La Bomba," Maier already has a nickname — or two. Best known as "The Herminator," Maier hopes to follow up his skiing career as a film star in the mode of his fellow countryman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a.k.a. "The Terminator."

With his powerful body Maier appears ready to step into the action-hero mode. He just hopes that the producers don't find any home movies of his former life as a 15-year-old skiing hopeful with a skinny body and bad knees.

"I was very, very small," Maier said. "I weighed maybe 50 kilos. In a big wind, it was a very bad thing."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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