Herminator: will he be back? 

After a six and half hour operation to stabilize his lower leg with a titanium rod Hermann Maier?s doctors are optimistic that the 28-year-old Olympic and World Cup champion will be able to resume his remarkable ski career within months, barring any complications.

"It?s not about racing in Kitzbuhel in January, but Hermann is pleased that he can move his toes and that he looks much better than the others in intensive care," said Johannes Zeibig, Maier?s personal doctor.

Maier went into a ditch on his motorcycle on Aug. 24 in Radstadt, near Salzburg (Austria) to avoid a collision with a Mercedes that cut him off with an illegal left turn. Paramedics attended the scene, and a helicopter was called in to transport Maier to a hospital in Salzburg.

According to Arthur Trost, the head surgeon at the hospital:

"Maier had an open break of both bones in the right lower leg, heavy bruising to both hips and the right upper leg and knee, right heel and left lower leg. Bruising and inflammation of the upper lip and nose. In addition Maier sustained a light impact to the head and lost parts of two front teeth."

As well as the titanium rod, which is secured to Maier?s tibia by four pins, doctors had to transplant skin from the skiers? upper arm with muscle attachments to his lower leg.

There were paint chips inside the wound and bone, and for the first few days doctors were prepared to amputate the leg if the trauma couldn?t be repaired or the wound showed any sign of infection. Now that scare is over, doctors believe that he will be able to make a full recovery within months.

He?ll miss the beginning of the World Cup season as he recovers and rehabilitates, but there is a possibility he will be in Salt Lake City, Utah, in February to defend his super-G and giant slalom gold medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Although the Herminator struggled mid-season last year, with a strong start and a strong finish, he still managed to tie the single-season World Cup record of 13 wins set by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden in 1979. He was also crowned the World Cup champion with nearly twice as many points as Austrian teammate Stephan Eberharter, who finished second overall.

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