Hermann Maier to become U.S. citizen; Move to Vail plannedSki Racing has learned that multiple World Cup champion Hermann Maier will renounce his Austrian citizenship and become an American citizen at a ceremony planned for later today in Vail, Colorado. While hush-hush negotiations were still on-going as of press-time with the U.S. Ski Team, the U.S. Government’s Citizen and Immigration Service, and Congressman Mark Udall (D- Colo), it appears likely that Austria’s most famous sportsman will likely be competing alongside Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves in U.S. team colors next season.
Reached by Ski Racing in Vail, CO Thursday evening, Maier in ever-improving English confirmed that something was afoot, but declined to be more specific: “You’ll have to wait for the announcement tomorrow, but I can confirm that I will NOT be competing for the Austrian team next year. I work too hard to have my sponsorship earnings limited by the National team’s archaic regulations. I tried to work a deal with them, but the folks in Innsbruck still act as if we’re in Karl Schranz’s era.” Schranz, the 1969 and 1970 World Cup champion was banned from participating in the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics because he admitted receiving $50,000 in cash from an Austrian tobacco company.
The Austrian press has been rife with news of a feud between Maier and the team over sponsorship issues the past two weeks. As with other members of the team such as Michaela Dorfmeister and Benjamin Raich, all athlete sponsorships must be approved, contracted and made through the Austrian team.
The team takes a cut — some say 50% — and then may or may not pass on the remaining monies to the athlete. In other cases, the team simply says “no”: Maier was reported to be extremely unhappy that a seven-figure (Euro) individual sponsorship deal with Audi was recently turned down because of a conflict with BMW, the Austrian team’s official car.
Most telling were Maier’s comments reported in the Austrian paper Der Standard on Monday: “I should be the highest paid sportsman in Austria, but as it is winning the World Cup last year I only earned 700,000 euro this season — less than some unknown tennis players. The team meanwhile will increase its funding next year by 4 milion Euro — largely thanks to my successes, and I won’t get a cent of that. If I were an American skier I’d earn 2 or 3 million euros.”
Word of the impending move of Maier stateside reached Ski Racing inadvertently; a New York-based press-relations agency accidentally e-mailed the magazine a photo taken Thursday morning of Maier in full U.S. Ski team regalia. That prompted a call to U.S. Ski Team headquarters in Park City UT, where there were initially immediate and swift denials of any impending deal with Maier. However, at 5pm Thursday , U.S. Ski Team CEO Bill Marolt called Ski Racing to admit “Yes, something is up with Hermann, but just like everyone else on the USSA staff you’ll have to wait like the rest of the world until the official announcement tomorrow. It’ll then become very clear why the U.S. Ski Team is on track to be best-in-the-world next year .”
Ski Racing has learned that negotiations were so secret that senior U .S. Ski Team staff were kept out of the loop, and that Marolt personally handled all discussions with Maier, and his agent Knut Okresek. Discussions initially started in Kitzbuhel at the end of January and were nearly finalized at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheid, Switzerland. One stumbling block to the deal was that the Austrian Ski Team demanded a “substantial” settlement in exchange for agreeing not to press legal action against the U.S. Ski Team and Maier. Marolt then arranged for a significant expansion of Spyder Active Sportswear ‘s sponsorship of the Austrian team, relieving them of any financial loss, and settling any legal issues.
It is expected that at the announcement later today Maier will also announce a sponsorship arrangement with Vail Resorts, Inc., similar to the one had by top skier Alberto Tomba in the early 1990′s. Under the new sponsorship, Maier will be a global, roving ambassador for Vail, be named technical advisor to its famed ski school, and receive use of a luxurious villa in Beaver Creek’s Batchelor Gulch estates.
Maier joins a host of Austrians who have fled the old country to seek fortunes in the U.S. Most famous among them are film star and now-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who counts Maier as a close friend, and who is reported to be appearing at the much-anticipated announcement later today in Vail.
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