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Skiing: Groundhog day for `Herminator'

HERMANN MAIER had been hoping to take a short break before next month's Alpine World Championships. Instead, the Austrian double Olympic champion plans to put in some overtime and will be in the start hut for every World Cup race leading up to the Vail championships - including a pair of slaloms - starting with the treacherous Lauberhorn downhill today.

Bothered by a sore back, "The Herminator" may not be as indestructible as the movie figure that provided him with his nickname, but Maier is proving to be equally relentless. He has put aside vacation plans in an effort to protect his lead on top of the overall World Cup standings from the in-form Norwegian all-rounder Kjetil Andre Aamodt, winner of the coveted overall crown in 1994.

On the strength of six wins, including a giant slalom victory in Adelboden on Tuesday, Maier arrives at this Swiss resort leading the rankings with 911 points and a 228-point margin over Aamodt.

But with Saturday's downhill and Sunday's slalom also adding up to the season's first combined, Maier is keenly aware that Aamodt, equally proficient in both the speed and technical events, could erase his advantage overnight.

Having been denied a much needed rest, Maier has turned to traditional Austrian remedies, including daily massages with groundhog fat, as he prepares to tackle the longest course on the World Cup circuit.

"It's true the Lauberhorn is long," said Maier, "but maybe I'm fast and so then it's not so long for me."