When Hermann Maier streaked past the finish line of the World Cup downhill in St. Anton am Arlberg, all of Austria cheered. Maier, considered Austria's greatest skier, glanced up at the race board, which showed he had taken the lead by more than a third of a second. He shook his head in disappointment. For Maier it was not fast enough. At a peak speed of more than 85 miles an hour, it still proved to be faster than anyone else. When his teammate and rival, Stephan Eberharter, finished 34-hundredths of a second behind, Maier celebrated his 46th World Cup victory.
He had returned to the top of the overall World Cup standings only 33 months after a driver had struck his motorcycle nearly severing one of his legs. While the skiing world has been saying, "the Herminator is back," Maier feels he is still regaining his form. "I still have power. It's not the same as before, but it's getting better and better," he said. Nevertheless, it was a day of triumph for Austria, the world's perennial skiing power. On Saturday, February 14, Austrians took the top four spots and seven within the top ten. The course was named after another Austrian skiing legend, Karl Schranz, who was in attendance. Maier, who never forgets a loss, said he was happy to atone for a past defeat by winning at St. Anton, where he had lost prior to his accident in 2001. "I won the race I lost three years ago," he told reporters in the finish area. While the Austrians were triumphant, the race was disappointing for the American team led by Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves. Ranking 31st in the downhill standing before the race, Miller said he was satisfied with an eighth place finish.
He was disappointed, however, for his friend and teammate Rahlves, who needed to stay ahead of Eberharter to have a realistic chance of capturing the season's downhill title. "I don't know what happened," said Rahlves, who spent the week recovering from illness and finished 11th falling to third behind Maier in the downhill standings. "I felt good coming down." Miller, who spends much of the season in nearby Innsbruck, is recognized as a future threat. The Austrians have taken to affectionately calling him the crash pilot for his aggressive style.