For starters, she was the only mother to compete on the World Cup downhill circuit in the early 1990s. Indeed, she was three months pregnant when she won the first of her two world titles in 1989. Maier - whose nickname was Ulli - came back two years later to claim her second world title in super-G.
Maier, who was denied an Olympic medal in the 1992 Games at Albertville, France, was aiming for redemption in the 1994 Games at Lillehammer, Norway. But Maier and the rest of the World Cup women competitors were so upset with the easy course planned for the 1994 Games that they went on strike before the 1993 Norwegian Games. The tactic worked as Olympic officials changed their plans and switched to a shorter version of the more-difficult men's course for the women's competition.
The trend of women racing on men's courses created alarm among some downhill officials. Improvements in equipment and techniques had caused speeds to soar to what many saw as dangerous ranges. For example, when famed French skier Jean-Claude Killy sped to victory in the first World Cup season in 1967, his average speed over a 1.86-mile course was just over 54 miles per hour. The average top speed for world class women competitors in 1994 was closer to 68 miles per hour.
Maier was coming off her fifth World Cup win on January 21, 1994, in Maribor, Slovenia, when she headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for a final tuneup before the Lillehammer Games. Although the 26-year-old Maier had announced that she would retire after the 1993-94 season and marry the father of her daughter, she reportedly was reconsidering as she was enjoying great success.
As she hurtled down the course at speeds topping 65 miles per hour, Maier's right ski appeared to catch a patch of soft snow two-thirds of the way down, causing her to lose balance and go off course. Her head hit a pile of snow (initial reports erroneously said she struck a timing tower), lost her helmet and tumbled several times down the course.
Although emergency workers quickly reached her and she was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital within minutes, she was declared dead. The cause was a broken neck.
In Austria, where downhill skiing is as popular as professional football is the the U.S., the event was witnessed live on television. Maier was the fifth Austrian ski team member to die in three years. The others were Gernot Reinstadler (ski accident, 1991), Rudolf Nierlich (car crash, 1991), Peter Wirnsberger (ski accident, 1992) and coach Alois Kahr (car crash, 1991).
Here's a video of the accident. Caution: it's quite graphic.Ulrike Maier, skier
Born: October 22, 1967
Died: January 30, 1994, age 26