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An Old Face In The Limelight

With Austrian skiing giant Hermann Maier out of the race, Stephan Eberharter has a good chance of leaving Salt Lake City with at least one medal.

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Stephan Eberharter has returned to the world skiing stage with a bang.

They call him the "Herminator". Known for his reckless races down the world's most treacherous mountains, Hermann Maier has dominated downhill skiing like no other in recent years.

But Maier will not be participating in the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Olympic super-G and giant slalom champion suffered a compound fracture and muscle tissue damage to his right leg in a motorcycle crash last August near his hometown of Flachau.

The main problem, however, has been Maier's left leg, which sustained severe nerve damage. He has only recently returned to training on the slopes with a special boot.

The 29-year-old decided his condition was not good enough to participate in Salt Lake City. He says he will not be watching the Games, either.

"I'm ready to take off for a vacation at a place where there is much sunshine, but no television," Meier writes to his fans on his website. "I don't think I'll follow the Olympics."

A brilliant career

Hermann Maier

Three-time World Cup champion skier Hermann Maier listens to a question during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002 in Kitzbuehel, Austria. Maier, badly injured in a motorcycle accident in August 2001, announced that he would not compete in the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Before his accident, Maier (photo) was a leading contender for gold in three alpine skiing disciplines. The former bricklayer ended last season far ahead of his closest rivals, even his teammates in the powerful Austrian team.

He captured the downhill, super-G and giant slalom World Cup titles and ended up with nearly double the points of his closest competitor, fellow countryman Stephan Eberharter.

Many spectators will miss Maier's hairraising runs. He was responsible for one of the highlights of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. During the downhill, he took a spectacular fall, losing his grip at 120km/h and eventually landing after three and a half seconds in the air.

Maier recovered in record time and just days later, went on to earn gold medals in both the super-G and the giant slalom.

Stepping out of the shadows

With Maier's departure from this year's Olympic stage, Eberharter is a favorite in both the downhill and the super-G.

Since 1998, the 32-year-old has consistently finished in the top three positions in his three preferred disciplines of downhill, super-G and giant slalom. But he has always stood in Maier's imposing shadow. Now, Eberharter has the chance to once again demonstrate his skills.

He's the new World Cup downhill champion and won the giant slalom and downhill races this past weekend in St Moritz, Switzerland. In his 11th year on the World Cup tour, observers say he has never skied better than this season.

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