Skiing: Maier to race despite injury

THE DOUBLE Olympic champion Hermann Maier will ignore a back injury in order to compete at Wengen and Kitzbuhel, the two toughest downhill events on the Alpine circuit.

The Austrian had been hoping to take a break from the World Cup to rest his back before next month's World Championships in Vail, but yesterday said he had decided to carry on in order to protect his lead in the overall standings.

"The back is not so good but not so bad either... we're working on it." Maier, who won a shortened downhill in Wengen last year, said. "I'm racing Wengen for sure and Kitzbuhel next weekend if it does not get worse.

"Normally it would be better to rest but I'm in pretty good shape, except for my back."

Maier said that he will also race two slaloms, a discipline he usually avoids, to collect combined points.

The Norwegian all-rounder Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the 1994 overall champion and Maier's closest rival, is 228 points behind the Austrian in the overall standings, but could easily close the gap over the coming week if Maier were not to compete.

Maier now plans to be in the start hut for every race leading up to the World Championships, including the two slalom events, starting with the demanding Lauberhorn downhill on Saturday. With pain-killers and muscle relaxants already a regular part of Maier's pre-race preparations, the reigning World Cup champion is also resorting to more traditional Austrian remedies. He has been undergoing massages several times a day and having therapy with hot sands applied to the back.

Maier has won six races this season, including a giant slalom victory in Adelboden on Tuesday.

But with Saturday's downhill and Sunday's slalom making up the season's first combined event, Maier is well aware that Aamodt, who is equally skilled in both the speed and technical events, could erase his advantage almost overnight.

Maier, whose aggressive style more suited to the downhill and super-giant slalom, rarely competes in slalom but was still good enough to win last year's combined in Wengen.

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