Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Herminator Bids Auf Wiedersehen

October 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments


Our first-ever overseas assignment was covering the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. We thus have incredibly vivid memories of Hermann Maier, the celebrated Austrian skiier who just decided to call it a career. We were at the downhill slopes the day of the crash shown above, and remember instantly thinking “He must be dead” upon witnessing the carnage. (The rough stuff starts about the 25-second mark.) But not only did Maier survive the high-speed wreck—he went on to win a pair of golds (though not in the downhill, of course). Suffice to say the favorite son of Altenmarkt im Pongau is made of sterner stuff than us.

Oh, yeah, he also survived a 2001 motorcycle crash that almost led to the amputation of his legs; three years later, he was once again a World Cup champion. Puts our struggle to complete a 5,000-word article in perspective. Too much perspective, perhaps.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • captured shadow

    The crash looks kind of bad, but the snow looks like the kind that would cushion your fall rather than break your leg. Two layers of snow fence had to hurt but he didn’t land on his neck and had a nice roll technique that I am sure he practiced. I could see how he would get away with only minor pain on that one.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    The slo-mo shot in the vid is crucial. At full-speed, it looked like he landed right on his neck. But a split second before impact, you can see how Maier did, indeed, manage to curl his neck in just the right manner. Not luck, I reckon, but skill.

    Witnessing this in real time, though, I remember thinking it was the most spectacular sports crash I’d ever seen. I was in a crowd at the bottom of the hill, and everyone shrieked in unison at the violence of the fall. I wasn’t exaggerating when I wrote above that I thought Maier had been killed.

    I also saw a nasty luge accident while in Nagano. Still want to try that sport, tho.

  • Gramsci

    I just remember “Happy” Harada weeping into the snow after his winning jump, exhausted from the pressure and relieved that he had not disgraced himself. Of course, here were the American announcers: “Look at Happy, he’s so happy!” Culture FAIL.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: You nailed it. I remember being agog at how much pressure was on the Japanese ski jumpers–they led the newscasts every evening for weeks leading up to the actual competition. I hadn’t realized that Japan was such a big ski jumping nation.

    BTW, everyone should attend a ski-jumping competition in person before they die. TV doesn’t give you a real sense of just how high those hills are, and just how far the folks go flying in the air. It’s just about the ballsiest sport ever.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Tony Comstock: I made the mistake of clicking on the tragic Ulrike Maier video in the “Related” sidebar. Don’t think I’ll ever let my son go skiing. Maybe he can luge instead.

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