Austrian ski racer Hermann Maier makes one of the most dramatic crashes in skiing history when he catapults 30 feet in the air, lands on his helmet and rams through two safety fences at an estimated 80 miles per hour on February 13, 1998. Amazingly, Maier suffered just minor injuries and walked away from the crash. Several days later, he won gold medals in the giant slalom and super-G events.
Maier was born December 7, 1972, in Altenmarkt, Austria. As a boy, he was trained by his father, a ski racer and ski school owner. As a teen, Maier was recruited to attend the Austrian national ski academy; however, he was sent home after a year and told he had no future as a professional skier because of his small size. Maier later became a bricklayer and taught skiing at his father’s school in Flachau, Austria. He competed in regional competitions before eventually earning a spot on Austria’s elite national team. Maier won his first World Cup race, a super-G, in February 1997 and began his domination of the skiing world the following season.
On this day in 1998, at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Maier was competing in the men’s downhill, an event he was favored to win, when he lost control during the seventh and eighth turns. He went flying into the air and made a cringe-inducing crash landing. To the amazement of those watching, Maier managed to get up and walk away with only minor injuries. Several days later he took home gold medals in the super-G and giant slalom events. Later that season, he won his first overall World Cup championship.
Maier’s aggressive skiing style and ability to survive a seemingly fatal wipeout earned him the nickname “The Herminator,” a play on fellow Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie character “The Terminator.” Maier won his second and third overall World Cup titles in 2000 and 2001.
In August 2001, Maier was in a life-threatening motorcycle accident that led doctors to consider amputating his leg. Instead, he underwent major reconstructive surgery and missed the next two seasons of competition, including the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. He made a spectacular comeback in the 2003-2004 season and won his fourth overall World Cup championship. At the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Maier won a silver medal in the super-G and bronze in the giant slalom. He announced his retirement in 2009.