Olympic champion Mayer returns to snow 7 months after crash

VIENNA (AP) Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer is planning to get back on skis next week, seven months after breaking two vertebrae in a World Cup crash.

The Austrian ski federation said Mayer will return to training on snow at the Moelltaler glacier on Tuesday, adding that a start in the season-opening race in October is improbable.

''A start in Soelden is not certain, rather unlikely,'' Austria men's team spokesman Markus Aichner told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Wearing a protective air bag under his race suit during the Dec. 19 downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, Mayer spun around and flew down the hill backward. He landed hard on his right hip and side then bounced back into the air with his body rotating and slammed back down on the ground, hitting the back of his helmet and putting his left shoulder in an awkward position.

Mayer was airlifted to a hospital, and a defective position of the seventh vertebrae made immediate surgery necessary. He spent 11 days in the hospital.

It was the first time an air bag inflated during a World Cup race, prompting a debate among skiers whether Mayer's safety system caused the serious injury or prevented him from getting hurt even worse.

The international ski federation cooperated for several years with an Italian manufacturer to develop the air bag, which is similar to a safety system used in motorcycle racing since 2009.

The air bag inflates only in the chest, side and shoulder areas. The system is activated using a complicated algorithm that determines when racers can no longer regain control, leading to inflation in less than a tenth of a second.

A winner of three World Cup races, Mayer said shortly after the crash he didn't blame the air bag for his injuries and that he planned to wear the protective gear again.

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