Olympics-Alpine Skiing-Maze finds way to second gold in giant slalom


By Annika Breidthardt

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 18 (Reuters) - With one eye fixed on the Olympics, Tina Maze has struggled this season but her plan to peak in the Caucasus mountains was validated in style with her second Sochi victory for Slovenia on Tuesday.

But yet again it was close. Braving heavy rain and fog, Maze edged out Austria's Anna Fenninger by 0.07 seconds in the giant slalom, having led by half a second after the first leg.

Last week, she was involved in the first Alpine skiing tie at the Olympics, clocking exactly the same time as Swiss Dominique Gisin in the downhill.

The overall World Cup winner in 2013 had a long victory drought this season and, in an attempt to turn things around in January, she hired former Swiss women's team head coach Mauro Pini to replace Walter Ronconi.

Later that month she won her first World Cup race, the downhill in Cortina, an indication that her form was coming back at just the right time.

"This season's plan was to show my best here at the Olympics, so my focus in training was the Olympics because I wanted to get here in the right shape," Maze said, sporting big snow-flake earrings after the race.

"I didn't have the right motivation in the season and you can't ski like that. But here I've shown my passion to compete."

Falling to the ground and making swimming movements after her victory, Maze said she was happy despite the rain.

"I have dreamt about a day like this, even though it is raining," she said. "I feel proud. I think I will realise what I have done many years later."

Spirited and determined, a requirement in a sport where downhillers reach speeds of more than 125 kph, Maze has always been her own person.

When, in 2012, the governing FIS confiscated her racing underwear following complaints from Swiss rivals who suspected her of gaining an aerodynamic advantage from plastic components, she made her thoughts known in her own fashion.

Maze unzipped her ski suit in the finish area at the Italian resort of Cortina to reveal a white sports bra with the words "Not your business" written across the front.

On Tuesday, she said she drew inspiration between her two runs from watching her nation's men's ice hockey team beat Austria and reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

"It's a great day for the whole Olympic team from Slovenia. I was watching hockey between the runs and the guys played so good and they inspired me to show even more."

Maze won silver in super-G and giant slalom in Vancouver and has 23 World Cup wins to her name.

"It's incredible for Tina. She hasn't had a great season, so it's particularly nice for her to be at the top," said Victoria Rebensburg, who claimed bronze after pneumonia meant she could not train for two months.

Maze has another chance to win a medal in Friday's slalom - her fifth race.

"I was ready for this, it's what I came here to do," she said. "The rest of the season doesn't matter." (Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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