SCHLADMING, Austria -- Hannes Reichelt has been ruled out of the Olympics because of a back injury, leaving the Austrian Alpine speed team without its main medal hope in Sochi.
The Austrian ski federation said Monday that Reichelt had to undergo surgery in a sanatorium in Innsbruck for a herniated disk, only two days after winning a World Cup downhill in Kitzbuehel, and therefore has to end his season prematurely.
"I am glad I had my back checked today because the consequences (of skiing on) could have been bad for me," said Reichelt, who became the first Austrian in eight years to win the classic Kitzbuehel race.
"The X-ray speaks for itself and surgery is unavoidable," Reichelt said. "Health comes in first place and I want to keep doing sports after my career. Unfortunately my Olympic dream is in shatters."
Reichelt had been complaining about persistent back problems for weeks. They almost prevented him from starting in Saturday's race but he took medicines to ease the pain.
Austria men's head coach Mathias Berthold called Reichelt's absence in Sochi "a massive blow to all of us."
The Austrian men's ski team failed to win any medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. For the technical races in Sochi, overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher is a strong favourite, but Austria's hopes for the downhill and the super-G were mainly with Reichelt. He is the only Austrian skier to win a downhill in the past two seasons.
"I feel extremely sorry for Hannes. He misses out on the most important race of the season," said Berthold, who was expected to announce a replacement later Monday.
"We knew before the downhill in Kitzbuehel that Hannes wasn't doing well," the coach said. "That he still won the race is almost incredible."
Berthold said it wasn't an option for Reichelt to rely on painkillers to take part in the Olympic downhill on Feb. 9, the first Alpine event of the Games.
"His condition is that bad, it would have been medically irresponsible to ski even once more," Berthold said.
Besides his triumph in Kitzbuehel, Reichelt had four more podiums in World Cup speed events this season. He has seven career wins. His only Olympic race was the super-G in Turin in 2006, where he finished 10th.
The federation's sport director, Hans Pum, said Reichelt "was in the form of his life."
"This is obviously really bitter," Pum said. "But health is the most important. We wish him all the best and a speedy recovery and hope he returns soon."