VIENNA (AP) — Benjamin Raich's dream of winning a fifth Olympic medal almost ended months before the 2014 Sochi Games even started.
The 2006 Olympic slalom and GS champion said Wednesday he has been recovering for weeks following an accident while riding his off-road motorbike in early August, when the 80-kilogram bike rolled over on steep terrain and landed on his right leg.
The Austrian, who also won two bronze medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, escaped with a torn muscle in his thigh. "I have been very lucky it all ended so well," Raich said. "I have already been on skis again and I am back to my normal strength now. However, it was not ideal to my preparations for the new season."
The 35-year-old Raich avoided a similar fate to Austrian great Hermann Maier, who missed the 2002 Olympics after a motorbike accident. Maier returned four years later to add two more medals to his collection at the Turin Games.
Raich didn't join the Austrian team for the recent pre-season training weeks in Chile and New Zealand, a decision he had taken well before the motorbike accident. "I needed time to get really fresh, physically and mentally," said Raich, who failed to get a podium finish in last year's World Cup. "I wasn't satisfied with my season. I didn't really consider retiring but I wanted to find out ... (if) I still have the right feeling and motivation to go on."
Raich won the overall World Cup in 2006, the last Austrian to achieve the feat until Marcel Hirscher won the first of his back-to-back titles last year. Expecting stiff competition to make the Austrian Olympic team, Raich will mainly focus on his strongest disciplines, slalom and GS, though he hasn't ruled out starts in some World Cup speed events.
Raich said his fourth Olympics in February will be his last but he won't decide on his future before the end of the season. "On paper, an Olympic race is a race like all others," Raich said. "In reality, you will always be remembered for your Olympic achievements ... In 1988, I was 10 years old and I already felt that Olympics are something really special."
Regarding retirement, Raich is facing similar questions as his longtime girlfriend, slalom specialist Marlies Schild, who missed most of last season as she recovered from yet another injury. "We are both having our own careers so even if Marlies were to quit, I'd still take my own decision," Raich said.
Schild, who has won 33 races and four crystal globes in slalom, said she had not considered ending her career either and she was getting used to coming back from injuries. "I recovered well from the knee injury and have been training without problems this summer," said Schild, who still has persistent back problems and will skip the season-opening GS in Soelden on Oct. 26.
"My preparations went well and the joy at ski racing is back again," Schild said. "But I want to be top fit for slalom. If all goes well, I might do a couple of giant slaloms as well." The 32-year-old Schild will be chasing her first Olympic gold medal in Sochi after winning silver in slalom at Vancouver in 2010 and in the combination at Turin four years earlier, when she also took bronze in slalom.
President Peter Schroecksnadel of the Austrian ski federation said he's "very glad Benni and Marlies are healthy again." "Usually it takes one or two seasons to get your full confidence back after injury," Schroecksnadel said. "But they know exactly how to handle such situations thanks to all their experience."