The Slovenia Times

Worlds Performance Cements Maze's Place in Ski Immortality



While she may not be fully satisfied after quietly having an eye on medals in all five individual events, the 31-year-old Maze will return home to a hero's welcome with two golds - in the downhill and combined events - and silver in the super-G.

It will go down as her best performance at a major competition, one that has elevated her medals haul at World Championships to nine (five silvers and four golds), good enough for seventh all time among women skiers.

She has won all of them in the second half of her career under the guide of her coach and life partner Andrea Massi.

Over seven years, the Italian-born coach has helped shape her into one of the best all-around skiers of all time, one of only a handful of competitors with World Cup wins in all disciplines.

Two seasons ago, when she broke the record for the most points in the overall standings on her way to victory, she became one of only three skiers ever to achieve this in a single season.

For a moment after she crossed the line eighth in the slalom this Saturday, all this appeared lost on Maze.

More than failing to win medals in all five events in Vail, a goal she had already missed out two days earlier by finishing fifth in the giant slalom, she was looking to medal in the slalom, the only event in which she has not stood on the podium at major competitions.

But to skiing fans in Slovenia the only thing that Saturday's result served to show is that her all-round skills can also be a curse.

Slalom is traditionally last in the line-up of events at major competitions and by the time it was held in Vail, Maze had already taken part in four events and countless trainings.

Even she admitted that her body could no longer take the punishment. "I could hardly breathe at the start of the second run," said Maze in the finish arena on Saturday.

Eternally hard on herself, Maze seemed to have come around to what she had achieved by Sunday, sharing a relaxed moment with the press and her team in her hotel.

Speaking to the press, she said that she may have hoped for too much and also that she could not decide what was more important to her - winning the three medals or the fact that she had got the better of US champion Lindsay Vonn, her biggest competitor in recent years in speed disciplines.

She went on to explain that her rivalry with Vonn had helped her enormously in becoming a more accomplished skier, elevating her form in the downhill and super-G to the point where most of her medals at major competitions have come in these events.

This after she had made it on to the skiing tour in 1999 a specialist in the giant slalom. Indeed, much has changed since making her World Cup debut as a 15-year-old in front of the home crowd in Maribor.

The Maribor slopes, not far from her home town of Črna na Koroškem, are also the place where she first took a World Cup podium in the giant slalom in 2002.

She steadily evolved into an all-rounder with inconsistent yet improving results in the following years until a breakthrough in 2009 under Massi's watch, when she finished sixth in the overall standings and clinched her first medal at World Championships.

Maze's best season, more precisely the best ever season by anyone in World Cup history, came in 2012/2013, when she posted 11 victories and finished with a record 2,414 points, more than the second and third-placed rivals combined and 414 more than the previous single season record of Austria's Hermann Maier.

The first medal at Winter Olympics came in Vancouver in 2010, when she won two silvers to end what had been a "bronze age" of Slovenian sports at Winter Olympics up to that point.

And despite finishing a below-par fourth by her own lofty standards in the World Cup last season, Maze excelled at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with downhill and giant slalom golds.

Maze is the recipient of numerous awards and titles. A five-time Slovenian Female Athlete of the Year, she was named the World Sportswoman of the Year by Gazzetta dello Sport in 2014 and European Athlete of the Year by European Press Agencies in 2013.

She has been nominated for the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year in 2014 and is in the running again this year.

Whether she wins this award or not this year will not matter much to her fans in Slovenia, where she has firmly taken her place as the queen of skiing in a nation that prides itself on its achievements in the sport.

That admiration will be on full display as she returns to Slovenia this week.

Maze will not be able to savour it much, however, as she sets her sights on the next challenge - the World Cup in Maribor, the place where it all began 16 years ago and where she will seek to build on her lead in the overall standings.

True to Maze's reputation, it is likely to be a highly charged affair in Maribor, as Slovenian fans flock to honour the skier who has left such an impression, in what could be her final season.

While she has hinted at retirement before, the possibility of this being her final season appears more likely than ever.

This is a daunting prospect for ski fans in the country, who have grown used to winning with Maze, but where the current crop of young talent is struggling to make a name for itself.


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