Maier killed in downhill crash

January 30, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- Austrian skier Ulrike Maier, a two-time world champion and the only mother on the Alpine circuit, died yesterday after crashing and breaking her neck during a World Cup downhill race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Maier, 26, lost control of her right ski in a narrow section of the 1.7-mile course while traveling at about 65 mph. She hurtled off the course, slammed into a timing post, lost her helmet and tumbled several times before sliding limply to a stop in the middle of the run.

Medical staff and race officials attempted unsuccessfully to revive Maier with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage. She was then winched up to a helicopter, which flew her to a hospital in nearby Murnau. She was pronounced dead about 2 1/2 hours later.

"She had no chance," said Guenter Hoffmann, the chief doctor at the hospital. "Her neck was broken, the main artery was ripped and no surgery was possible."

Maier, fourth overall in the women's World Cup standing this season, would have been a medal contender in the Winter Olympics, which will begin in Norway on Feb. 12.

Maier was best known for winning the world Super-G championship in Vail, Colo., in 1989 when she was two months pregnant. "My child and I skied two as one," she said.

After giving birth to Melanie, Maier came back two years later and won the world Super-G title again.

Before this season began, Maier told Austrian journalists she was "90 percent certain" this would be her final season on the World Cup circuit because she wanted to spend more time raising her daughter. She also had announced plans to marry Melanie's father, Hubert Schweighofer.

"I just feel so very, very sorry for them all," said Picabo Street, an American downhiller who was the race leader when the accident occurred. Street, who finished eighth, placed some blame for the accident on race organizers for putting the timing post close to a narrow, potentially dangerous part of the course.

"They need to put it in the safest part of the course, not where the crowd and television audience can see the fastest time and give the biggest hurrah, " she said. "They are veering away from the safety of the athletes."

Street also criticized the organizers' decision to use a chemical called PTX3 on the course earlier in the week to keep snow from melting.

"I don't think what happened is solely because of the chemical, but I think it contributed to it," she said. "It makes the snow grabby and weird."

Race organizers could not be reached for reaction to Street's comments, but the chief referee, Kurt Hoch, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the accident spot "was one of the safest parts of the course."

Maier was the first skier on the World Cup circuit to die as a result of a crash since Austrian Gernot Reinstadler was killed in downhill practice in Wengen, Switzerland in 1991.

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