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Flight into immortality

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His whole body vibrates with tension and his gaze is wildly determined as Hermann Maier, wearing bib number 4, pushes off into the Olympic downhill in Nagano on 13 February 1998. Every fibre screams attack. Maier is the big gold favourite, even though he had been working as a bricklayer on building sites just over two years earlier.

Then: a right turn, a bump, Maier takes off and flies through the air at 100 km/h for around 40 metres, his skis higher than his head. He hits the deep snow, is slowed down by safety fences and flips over several times. Thousands of kilometres away, mother Gertraud and father Hermann Senior scream in horror. They and the skiing world are seized with fear – until Maier gets up almost unharmed.

The dream of Olympic gold seems to be over for the time being. Yet because the super-G on 14 February is postponed twice due to bad weather, Maier has until 16 February to recover from knee and shoulder injuries and compete. "I thought to myself: if I win gold now, I'll be immortal," says Maier.

He did indeed win gold – and earned a new name. In reference to the "Terminator", Maier became the "Herminator", winning the giant slalom three days later. The flight to immortality was just the start of a career in which he won the overall World Cup four times, celebrated 54 race victories and became world champion three times.