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Swiss skiers wish Maier well

Maier has dominated the skiing world in recent seasons

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland's top skiers have expressed their shock over the weekend road accident that is threatening to bring an end to the career of Austrian superstar Hermann Maier.

Swiss world champion Michael von Grünigen has been Maier's biggest rival in the giant slalom over the last few seasons. But on Monday he told swissinfo his only wish was to see the Austrian back on his feet again.

"I was very surprised to hear the news," said Von Grünigen from his summer training camp in Zermatt. "It's terrible for Hermann to get an injury like that. I just hopes it works out better than they're predicting and that he can come back to the sport."

Seven hour operation

The 28-year-old Maier was taken to a Salzburg hospital on Friday night after crashing his motorbike into the side of a car. The double Olympic champion underwent a seven hour operation which included a skin graft from his left arm onto the injured right leg.

Earlier fears that the leg might have to be amputated appear to have receded with Maier's doctors now confident that the wound has not been infected. Talk of a return to professional sport remains extremely premature, however, with the medics still unable to say whether Maier will even be able to walk again.

Ironically it was a comeback of a lesser kind which lifted Maier from fame in the skiing world to stardom on a global level. After picking himself up from an horrific looking crash at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and going on to win two gold medals in the next six days, Maier earned his "Herminator" nickname and significantly raised the profile of skiing itself.

Great athlete

"We have a great rivalry on the slopes," Von Grünigen said on Monday, "but I think Hermann is a great athlete and a great skier. If he cannot come back to the slopes the whole ski business will lose a great athlete."

"I can only send him the best of wishes," the Swiss star added, "and hope that he's getting better."

Von Grünigen's sentiments were echoed by his Swiss team-mates. Franco Cavegn, who has competed against Maier in the downhill discipline said he had been dumbstruck when he first heard of the Austrian's accident.

No stranger herself to career-threatening injuries, women's giant slalom world champion Sonja Nef has also expressed her sympathies.

"It is the worst thing that can happen to an athlete," the 29-year-old Appenzeller told Switzerland's SonntagsBlick newspaper. "You train hard the whole summer, get in super form and then pick up such a terrible injury."

Despite seeing Switzerland struggle against their Austrian rivals, and particularly Maier, for the last five years, Swiss head coach Dieter Bartsch was also downcast.

"I just hope the doctors' bad prognoses have been exaggerated, and that Maier can get back on his feet," Bartsch said. "Because this isn't something you'd wish on your biggest rival. To take to the piste against Maier was always a very special challenge."

by Mark Ledsom

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