Maier says he won't ski at Salt Lake City Olympics

Wednesday, January 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) _ Two-time Olympic champion Hermann Maier, badly injured in a motorcycle accident last summer, announced Wednesday he would not compete in the Salt Lake City games.

Maier, who broke his right leg and suffered nerve damage in his left leg during the accident in August, said he still has too many problems.

``This was a very difficult decision for me because I worked very hard after the crash,'' said the 29-year-old Maier, looking pale and somewhat strained during a rare press conference. ``It's hard because (the Olympics) were the reason I started to train right after the crash when I was still in bed at the hospital.

``But it's too dangerous for my career right now. I can't risk it.''

Maier, a three-time reigning World Cup champion, said the decision was not simple _ but that he couldn't ski the way he wanted to. He said his left leg was still numb and he couldn't properly apply pressure on his right leg either. His right leg is swollen and he was forced to stretch his ski boot to make it fit.

The powerful Austrian, who described his decision as a ``lonely'' one, said he will now begin training for the next season, which begins in fall.

``I guess all I can do now is look forward to and prepare for next season,'' said the former-bricklayer from Flachau. ``I need more time and that's all. I hope over the summer to get back to the same form. I hope to ski with the same style as before.''

Maier said he planned to take some time off during the games, due to start on Feb.8, and begin skiing and training again in February and March. He hoped to begin weight training and other more strenuous exercises in May.

Nicknamed ``The Herminator'' for his dominant style and fearless attitude, Maier won two gold medals in the 1998 Nagano Olympics just days after a spectacular crash now used in TV-commercials promoting the Salt Lake City games.

Maier denied accusations he had waited until the last moment to make the decision in the interest of his sponsors.

``I'd been hoping until the last moment to ski in Salt Lake,'' he said, adding that all the media attention he has received since his accident results from ``what I have achieved in the past years.''

Maier vowed he would not watch the games on television, saying he wanted to travel to a remote island where there were no televisions so he would not have to see his teammates and other nations competing in the world's biggest ski race.

``Since I cannot start, I'd like to wish the whole team the best of luck, and I hope, and I am in fact convinced, that they will honorably represent Austria, and I hope they will return with many medals hanging around their necks.''

The Austrian has undergone a grueling rehabilitation program to speed up his recovery. After skiing a test downhill Dec. 21 for the first time since the accident, Maier had said he was not ready to compete in the Olympics, but had added, ``never say never,'' according to his agent, Knut Okresek.

Millions of Austrians have followed Maier's saga since his motorcycle was hit by a car in Radstadt, Austria, on Aug. 24, throwing him into a ditch. He underwent seven hours of surgery to repair his leg and doctors said he was close to kidney failure and having the leg amputated.