Skiing: Maier's fight for overall crown goes down to wire

Hermann Maier and Anja Paerson head into the season's last two races as favorites to land the World Cup's ultimate prize.

But if 22-year-old Swede Paerson is almost guaranteed to claim her first overall title, the men's dramatic four-way battle for the largest of globes could not be more unsure.

Maier, who owned the title before suffering life-threatening injuries in a grisly motorcycle accident three summers ago, is fighting off two-time defending champion Stephan Eberharter, teammate Benjamin Raich and American Bode Miller this weekend at the World Cup Finals.

Maier has 1,265 points ahead of Saturday's giant slalom and Sunday's slalom - which he normally doesn't run. Stephan Eberharter, the two-time defending overall champion, sits second in the points with 1,223. Like Maier, he normally doesn't run slalom. Technical specialist Benjamin Raich, who is expected to score big on the weekend, is third with 1,113. Miller has 1,098. Wins are worth 100 points.

The title could very well "go right down to the last gate in Sunday's slalom," according to Maier.

The "Herminator" could virtually secure the overall title that belonged to him before his accident with a fourth place finish in Saturday's giant slalom.

Fourth place would give Maier 50 points, boosting him to 1,315 and out of reach of Raich and Miller, even if either wins both races.

Eberharter is unlikely to do well in the giant slalom. His best result in the discipline this season was an eighth place back in October. Since, he has failed to finish better than 15th.

"It's very important to have a very good giant slalom race," said Maier, who won Olympic gold and three World Cup titles in the giant slalom before the accident but has since struggled in the most competitive of disciplines. "It's getting very interesting for sure until Sunday.

"Anyone has a good chance. Bode and Benjamin are very close together. Stephan only has one GS race to go. We'll see."

Three men need to win Saturday's giant slalom: Miller and Raich to keep alive their chances for the overall, and Finland's Kalle Palander, who is looking to overtake Miller for the discipline globe.

Miller, who is seeking his first World Cup discipline title, tops the giant slalom standings with 410 points. Palander is second, trailing by 61 points.

"Everybody knows Bode likes to win," Palander said. "But everybody also knows sometimes he is a bit unstable, like me. He will try to win tomorrow to be in touch for the overall.

"But everybody knows what can happen in giant slalom. That anything can happen. Tomorrow's giant slalom is very open."

Palander is also looking to secure the slalom title in Sunday's race. Schoenfelder leads the discipline rankings with 550 points, 55 ahead of the Finn.

"I am going to take a lot of risk," Palander said. "I have nothing to lose. I am second in the rankings in both slalom and giant slalom.

"I have prepared myself for the possibility I might finish the season in second. But I am going to give everything I have to win. I really have to push myself to the limit."

Paerson, who has already clinched both the gate titles, will attempt to secure the overall ahead of newly-crowned World Cup downhill and super-G champion Renate Goetschl of Austria.

She is 77 points ahead of Goetschl and is favored in both remaining races.

Paerson leads the overall with 1,421 while Goetschl is second on 1,344. Montillet is out of touch in third on 957.

Paerson, who needs just 26 points to become Sweden's first overall champion since Pernilla Wiberg in 1997, will begin her assault in Saturday's slalom, which will be followed by the giant slalom Sunday.

Goetschl has to finish second or better in the GS and hope the Swede scores almost no points in either race.

"I only need a top 10 finish in the slalom on Saturday and as I've won six times this season I feel I can manage that," the Swede said with a smile.

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