By Julia Ferguson
KITZBUEHEL, Austria (Reuters) - Austrian skier Hermann Maier will not race at next month's Olympics because of a leg injury, robbing the Salt Lake City Games of one of the biggest name in winter sports.
The double Olympic champion broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident in August and has been fighting against the odds to get fit for the Games, starting on Feb. 8.
Maier, 29, told a news conference Wednesday he was so far from full fitness he would have been unable to challenge for another gold in Salt Lake City.
``I have too little time,'' he said. ``It was a very difficult decision because I trained very hard to plan my comeback ... but I'm not in such good condition.
``I had problems with my left leg as the nerves are not working properly and my foot is still a bit numb.
``On the right side I also have some problems and I cannot really get the best performance out of it.''
Before his accident Maier, a triple overall World Cup champion, was a leading contender for gold in three alpine skiing disciplines. No other skier has dominated the sport like Maier in recent years.
The Austrian said doctors had given him the green light to step up the intensity of his training. But when he pushed himself hard, he was unhappy with the results.
``I did some practice, trying to get up to racing levels but I have to say that I was not really keeping up with my own expectations or getting my turns right, so I didn't enjoy it.''
``I wish the team all the best of luck at the Olympics and hope that Austria come back with very many medals hanging round their necks.
``My main focus now is on the next season so that I can halfway ski well again and enjoy it. I need to relax, get some sun and warmth ... I will come back.''
Austrian Ski Federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said he had been prepared to give Maier ever opportunity to compete at the Games and today's decision was the racer's alone.
``I must accept his decision and fully support it. We don't want to risk anything,'' he said. ``It is much more important that Maier gets fit again.''
Nicknamed ``The Herminator'' for his stirring runs down the world's most treacherous mountains, Maier became a double world, double Olympic and triple overall World Cup champion in only four winters.
The former bricklayer ended last season on a high and far ahead of his closest rivals, even his team mates in the powerful Austrian team.
He captured the downhill, super-G and giant slalom World Cup titles and ended up with nearly double the points of his closest competitor, compatriot Stephan Eberharter. By taking the final giant slalom of last season at Are, Sweden, Maier equaled Swede Ingemar Stenmark's 1978/79 record of 13 wins in a single season. He has a total of 41 World Cup victories.
The Olympic super-G and giant slalom champion suffered a compound fracture and muscle tissue damage to his right leg in a motorcycle crash in August near his hometown of Flachau.
The main problem, however, has been Maier's left leg which sustained severe nerve damage. He has only recently returned to training on the slopes with a special boot.
Maier declined to speculate on whether he would compete in any World Cup races this season, but said it was very unlikely that he would compete in the World Cup finals being staged at his home town of Flachau in March.
Hermann Maier of Austria addresses a news conference in Kitzbuehel January 16, 2002. Maier, who badly injured his leg in a motorcycle accident on August 24, announced that he will not participate in the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)