Silver seals Maier's return

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The Independent Online

Hermann Maier returned to the Olympic podium on Saturday after a gap of eight years - and five years after the motorcycle accident which almost cost him a leg. Although the Austrian was unable to add to the two Olympic golds he earned at Nagano in 1998, he was hardly discontented with the silver he took in the super-giant slalom behind Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt.

"I am so happy I could actually take part in the race," said Maier, who had delayed his arrival at these Games to recover from flu. "It was a difficult course today, a difficult competition, and no medal would have been just as possible. I am very glad to be back - this second Olympic Games has been my biggest goal."

Now 33, Maier has made a habit of confounding judgements throughout his career. As a youngster he was told he was too small for the Austrian ski academy. He grew nine inches in a single year.

He competed at local level while working as a bricklayer until he had the chance to act as a "forerunner" at a World Cup race when it was staged on his local piste. His time was only a second slower on the day than that of the world's leading skier of the time, Alberto Tomba.

After breaking his arm in first World Cup downhill race in 1997 he returned a month later with a cast on his arm and claimed his first World Cup victory.

Now Maier has his sights on today's giant slalom. "The advantage is I have something to take home and keep in my bedside table," he said. "That will give me a better feeling for the next race."