Despite hitting a rock and damaging an eight-inch section of his left ski, Austria's Hermann Maier overpowered North America's most difficult downhill course, winning by nearly a full second over teammate Stephan Eberharter yesterday for his third World Cup victory in as many races this season.

Forced to over-rely on his right ski for most of his run, Maier mastered the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, Colo., in 1 minute 43.77 seconds, which was .91 seconds faster than Eberharter's 1:44.68.

"After the gliding section at the top, I found a big rock and damaged the inside edge of my left ski," Maier said. "That made it very difficult."

Bolting out of the start house, he stayed crouched in his tuck for most of his run, nipping one gate in a bold effort to find the shortest line.

The victory was Maier's fifth on this demanding three-year-old course, which features fast turns and big jumps.

Meantime, Italy's Isolde Kostner won the first women's World Cup downhill race of the season, speeding down the Olympic course in 1 minute 36.92 seconds to beat Hilde Gerg of Germany by six hundredths of a second.

Kostner, known for her excellent gliding skills, won the race near the bottom of the course at Lake Louise, Alberta, after a slight mistake on the steeper middle section of the race course.

* SPEEDSKATING: Olympic champion Hiroyasu Shimizu of Japan used a late surge to beat Canada's Jeremy Wotherspoon in the 500 meters in record time at the Speedskating World Cup in Berlin.

Shimizu was timed in 35.67 seconds, a rink record, to Wotherspoon's 35.69.

Japan's Eriko Sanimya won the women's 500 and finished second to Germany's Monique Garbrecht in the 1,000 at the first World Cup sprint races of the season.

Jan Bos of the Netherlands won the men's 1,000 in 1:11.35, followed by compatriot Jakko-Jan Leeuwangh at 1:11.42. Wotherspoon was third in 1:11.55.

* LUGE: Olympic champion Silke Kraushaar won the women's singles at a World Cup competition dominated by Germans.

In Alternberg, Germany, Kraushaar set a course record on her first run and led a German sweep of the top three places. Kraushaar handed Sylke Otto her first defeat of the season, soaring down the track in a record 53.648 seconds and finishing her two heats in 1:48.296 to Otto's 1:48.396.

* SKI JUMPING: World Cup champion Martin Schmitt of Germany won the opening event of the season, which was limited to one jump because of bad weather in Kuopio, Finland.

Schmitt soared 125.5 meters for 123.9 points in his first and only jump. Andreas Goldberger of Austria finished second with 121.0 meters, 118.8 points.

* CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: Norwegian men and women finished 1-2 in the season's first World Cup races, with Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset winning the men's 10-kilometer competition and Bente Martinsen taking the women's 5K event in Kiruna, Sweden.

Hjelmeset was timed in 26 minutes 23.3 seconds--12 seconds ahead of compatriot Tomas Alsgaard and Slovakia's Ivan Batory. Martinsen won the women's race in 14:22, nearly a half-minute ahead of compatriot Anita Moen, who clocked 14:51.5.

CAPTION: Swooping down the Birds of Prey course, Austria's Hermann Maier flies away from the field to win his third World Cup event this season.