Austrians attack Maier's reaction after loss
ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) -- Hermann Maier, Austria's greatest sports star, is in trouble with his army of home fans and the country's media -- for an enigmatic smile after the favored Austrians were upstaged by an American.
The Austrian superstar broke into a grin after Daren Rahlves crossed the line with the fastest time in Tuesday's super-G to snatch the gold medal at the World Championship.
While Rahlves' victory meant that Maier had dropped to third place, it also robbed fellow Austrian Stefan Eberharter of the gold medal and relegated him to No. 2.
Some Austrians took Maier's grin to be a typical example of "schadenfreude," expressing pleasure at his teammate and rival Eberharter's misfortune.
"The Herminator lost more than just a world championship race and a title, in the moment of his defeat he also lost a lot of sympathy," wrote the Vienna newspaper Die Presse on Wednesday.
Maier dismissed the criticism.
"I laughed because the Americans practice with us and then it's one of them who beat us. That's simply laughable. Whoever gives it a negative interpretation should see a psychiatrist."
Maier's gesture launched a lively chat on his home page, with many fans sending highly critical, even insulting comments and others defending the most popular athlete in the country.
Maier, a two-time Olympic champion, is Austria's greatest sports star, not only in skiing. A news magazine recently published a list of 1,000 most important Austrians and Maier was in first place.
The competition for places in Austria's dominant team is cutthroat, although Maier's status as No. 1 is uncontested.
Eberharter, who won the super-G title 10 years ago, had been hoping for a repeat that would take some spotlight away from Maier.
After losing his place on the Austrian team several seasons ago, Eberharter fought back -- only to find himself in Maier's shadow.
"There is no rivalry between me and Stefan," Maier said. "Why should I have a rivalry with anyone when I win so often anyway? The competition inside the team is lively, you can learn something from that."
Chief coach Hans Pum said Maier was "too Austrian" to have been happy over Eberharter's defeat.
"We talked in the finish area and he said we should have distributed the starting numbers better and then maybe one of us would have won," Pum said.
The Austrians entered the worlds on home snow with very high expectations, but after men's and women's super-G races, one of their showcase events, they are still without a gold medal. On the men's World Cup circuit, Austrian men have won 36 of the last 38 super-G races.
The nation's media were reeling Wednesday.
"The American hits us in the heart," said the Tiroler Tageszeitung. "Americans snatches the gold from us," said the Kronenzeitung.