Skiing: Skier dies after crash

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The Independent Online
ULRIKE MAIER, one of the favourites to win a gold medal at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics next month, died yesterday after breaking her neck in a fall during an alpine World Cup downhill at Garmisch- Partenkirchen, Germany.

The Austrian, who is the first woman to be killed during a World Cup race, lost control of her right ski at more than 60mph on the lower part of the 1.75-mile course, which is one of the most difficult on the circuit. She hurtled into a bank of snow and bounced back on to the piste. The impact was so great that Maier's helmet was torn from her head and she was unconscious when found.

A doctor gave first aid including heart massage at the scene before she was transferred by helicopter to a hospital near Munich, but she died of her injuries. A doctor at the hospital said the main artery in Maier's neck was torn.

Maier, who was 26 and had a four-year-old daughter, was one of the characters on the international ski circuit. She especially enjoyed the challenging courses, like the one at Garmisch. She won the first of her two world super-giant slalom world championships at Vail, Colorado, in 1989 in temperatures so low that racing was almost halted. After the race she announced that she was two months pregnant.

Maier delayed her return to competition after the birth of her daughter, Melanie, with many fearing she would be lost to the sport. But when she came back she retained her super-G world championship title in 1991, and took a silver medal in the giant slalom.

Maier, whose daughter often waited for her at the finishing line but was not in Garmisch yesterday, first joined the Austrian team in 1982 and the World Cup tour in 1985. She established herself as one of the team's most consistent points scorers, winning the giant slalom World Cup last year and finishing second in the super-giant standings. She was third in this year's giant slalom list after winning at Maribor, Slovenia, last weekend.

Race organisers cancelled today's downhill as a mark of respect for Maier, but the men's World Cup slalom will go ahead in Chamonix, France.

(Photograph omitted)