Big in Japan
Maier wins giant slalom, puts championships behind him
Updated: Thursday February 15, 2001 7:10 PM
SHIGAKOGEN, Japan (Reuters) -- Hermann Maier bounced back from a disappointing showing at last week's world championships to claim his fourth Alpine skiing World Cup giant slalom win of the season Thursday.
Maier overcame the icy conditions on one of the most demanding giant slalom courses on the circuit to win in two minutes 43.49 seconds, well ahead of Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein (2:45.23).
Maier's Austrian compatriot Benjamin Raich was third, clocking 2:45.32.
Maier, the giant slalom gold medallist in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, said the rock-hard piste worked in his favor.
"The Shigakogen course is very difficult, especially like today when it gets icy," the former bricklayer-turned-Austria's national idol said.
"It was even more difficult than the Olympics... But I like it when the piste is hard, so that was good for me," he added.
The victory may soften his disappointment at the world championships in St Anton where he failed to live up to the home crowd's hopes of winning three gold medals.
Maier had blamed the intense coverage by the media and sponsors for his poor showing on home snow and Thursday said their absence in Japan was a relief.
"Because there wasn't much pressure on me (here), I was able to perform to the best of my abilities," Maier said. "This was the best race of the season."
Eye on giant slalom crown
The victory also keeps alive the Austrian's chances of winning the giant slalom World Cup crown.
Switzerland's Michael Von Gruenigen, Maier's arch-rival and World Cup leader in the giant slalom coming into Thursday's race, finished eighth.
Although the Swiss skier is still at the top of standings with one race to go in the discipline, his lead has been cut to 40 points over Maier. The final race will be held in Sweden next month.
A giant slalom crown will be the icing on the cake for Maier, who looks set to claim the overall title for the third time.
He has an overwhelming lead in overall standings with 1,173 points, well clear of second-place Lasse Kjus of Norway.
Asked what made Maier so strong on the snow, Buechel said: "If I knew, I would be skiing faster. He puts everything, 100 percent into the competition."
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