Maier to trek to the South Pole
Reuters - Wed, 08 Sep 09:33:00 2010
Former Olympic and world champion Hermann Maier is preparing to trek to the South Pole this winter.
The Austrian, who won four Alpine ski World Cup overall titles and five gold medals at Olympics and world championships, will begin his journey on December 8, the day after his 38th birthday, with a flight to Cape Town.
From there, the former downhill champion Maier will travel to the Russian base of Novo in Antarctica to begin the trek to the Pole as part of a four-man Austrian team.
"It's a pretty exciting and unique adventure; it's also a great opportunity for me to do something really special and unforgettable," said Maier.
They will compete against a German team in an event being organised by Austrian national broadcaster ORF and Germany's ZDF and timed to mark the 100th anniversary of Norwegian Roald Amundsen becoming the first man to reach the South Pole.
"It's called the Race to the South Pole yet I don't see it as a competition, it's more an exploration and a formidable challenge," said Maier. "It's something amazing, it may never happen again. How many people nowadays have a chance to reach the South Pole by ski?"
Maier will team up with another top Austrian athlete, triathlon specialist Tom Walek, who is 38 and a radio reporter on ORF.
On the German side, triathlete Joey Kelly will be joined by television commentator Markus Lanz. Both teams will be supplemented by two more people chosen from 9,600 candidates who put themselves forward for a series of tests in August and September.
A 25-person crew, including a doctor and an Antarctic specialist, will follow the two teams with special "snowcars" and record their efforts for a series of television shows to be aired next year.
The British agency Extreme World Races, which is in charge of logistics, expects that, with good weather, the trip should take 16 days. Departure from the base camp is scheduled for December 25 with the teams due to arrive at the South Pole around January 9.
Maier and his partners will travel for some 16 hours a day on special touring skis, pulling a heavy sled laden with food and equipment including a large tent.
They will ski an estimated distance of 400 km in total, at an average altitude of 3,000 metres, often in strong winds.
Maier's public relations adviser, Walter Delle Karth, is confident about the physical and mental shape of his charge.
"Since his retirement, Hermann has been looking for something special like this," said the former spokesman of the Austrian Ski Team.
"He is definitely in good shape and he will be working out hard for this. He took special care of his resistance strength in the past months. As you know, he has always been very strong-minded and focused when it really mattered."
A former ski instructor and bricklayer before dominating ski racing for nearly a decade, Maier had a horrific motorcycle accident in August 2001, nearly losing a leg. He recovered and returned to racing, racking up a total of 53 wins in World Cup events before retiring a year ago.
Maier, too, is confident about his new adventure.
"I know my body pretty well and I'm aware of what it needs to be in perfect shape," he said. "I spent a lot of time this summer on my bike and I swam a lot too. I'm looking forward to our first training camp on snow in Norway."