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OLYMPIC SCENE HELENE ELLIOTT

Herminator Show Terminated

January 17, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT

The Herminator won't be back.

Austria's Hermann Maier, who won gold medals in the super-giant slalom and giant slalom at Nagano days after he'd crashed in the downhill, said injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident five months ago will prevent him from defending his titles at Salt Lake City next month.

"It has been my plan all along to try to make it back to the Olympics," he told reporters Wednesday at a news conference broadcast live on Austrian TV. "Even in my hospital bed, I was working to get back in shape.

"It's very close now, but not enough to take the risk. For me, it would be better if the Olympics were next year. I'll probably go on a holiday then and start skiing in February or March to come back next year."

Maier, admired for his flair and aggressiveness, broke his right leg and suffered nerve damage in his left leg when his motorcycle was hit by a car in Radstadt, Austria, in August. He underwent seven hours of surgery to repair injuries caused by the impact.

Although he skied an easy downhill Dec. 21 and said, "Never say never," about his Olympic chances, his body wouldn't cooperate. The nerve damage gives him the most trouble, leaving the leg numb, and he can't put much pressure on his right leg.

"After the doctor gave me the green light, I tried to move closer to the limit, to ski more like in a race, but I have to say I was not really in a position," he said. "This is why I have decided not to be at the Olympics."

It's a shame to lose a colorful personality like Maier, but the Austrian ski team is so deep, it can absorb the loss of Maier and Josef Strobl, who injured his knee last weekend.

Hannes Trinkl, who missed the season's first five World Cup downhills because of a concussion, had the fastest training time Wednesday for a World Cup downhill on the Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He was clocked in 1 minute 55.89 seconds and was one of four Austrians in the top seven, even though World Cup downhill and overall leader Stephan Eberharter skipped the practice, as did teammates Fritz Strobl and Andreas Schifferer.

Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Calif., who was last season's super-G world champion but has struggled this season, had the fourth-fastest training time Wednesday, 1:56.09. Rahlves had good results in Kitzbuehel last year, finishing third in a World Cup downhill and fourth in a super-G.

Angel or Devil?

Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel, who finished second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last week and won an Olympic berth, is a sweet-faced 17-year-old with a ferocious competitive streak.

But there's no reason to believe she was trying to hurt Michelle Kwan--or anyone else--during the warmup for the women's free skate Saturday at Staples Center.

Cohen might have breached skating etiquette by getting close to her competitors, but some fanatics have vilified her as a brat who should be thrown off the Olympic team. That's an overreaction. Kwan and Sarah Hughes nearly collided too. No skater or coach complained to the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. about Cohen, a USFSA spokesman said, and no one from the USFSA thought anything untoward happened, although the other top finishers were chilly toward Cohen afterward.

Cohen would have gained nothing by injuring anyone because she could have been hurt too, and taken herself out of contention. She and Kwan brushed arms once and had one other close encounter. It wasn't Oksana Baiul and Tanja Szewczenko colliding at the 1994 World Championships, which left Baiul with a cut on her leg and Szewczenko with a sore shoulder and hip.

"I'm always trying to get my jumps in," Cohen said. "There are six ladies and I try to go for my stuff and go around people. Sometimes it's hard."

Said Kwan, "There are six skaters on the ice and everyone is in their own zone."

Kwan gathered herself perfectly well. So did Hughes. As world-class athletes, they can take care of themselves and ignore distractions. This is "the Show," and there's a lot at stake. Cohen is competitive. If competitiveness is prized among male athletes, why should it be criticized when it's demonstrated by female athletes?

"There's no place for shrinking violets in competitive ladies' skating," said Cohen's coach, John Nicks.

"They may look almost fragile but they're tough kids."

Amen.

Legal Roundup

Bobsled brakeman Jen Davidson, bumped off Jean Racine's sled and the U.S. Olympic team in favor of Gea Johnson, filed a grievance with the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, asking for a new push-off and a chance to regain her spot.

Davidson's grievance invoked Article 9 of the U.S. Olympic Committee's constitution and bylaws and said she was denied an opportunity to compete because "the application of the criteria to select the brakemen was unfair." She claims Racine promised her the brakeman spot at the Olympic trials, so she felt it was unnecessary to take part in a push-off with other brakemen before a World Cup competition that preceded the trials.

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