Austrian wins men’s slalom at worlds |

Austrian wins men’s slalom at worlds

Graham Dunbar
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Austria's Manfred Pranger celebrates after winning the Men's Slalom race, at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Val d'Isere, France, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

VAL D’ISERE, France ” Manfred Pranger of Austria won the men’s slalom on a desperately difficult course at the World Championships on Sunday after a succession of challengers failed to finish.

Six of the top 15 racers, including defending overall World Cup champion Bode Miller, failed to finish the first run in the morning, and only two of the top eight skiers from the first run completed the second leg.

Pranger timed 1 minute, 44.17 seconds for two runs down the icy Face de Bellevarde course to hold off Julien Lizeroux of France, who finished 0.31 seconds behind in second. Michael Janyk of Canada climbed from ninth to third, 1.53 seconds back.

Jimmy Cochran of the United States produced the fastest run of the afternoon, clocking 50.85 seconds to move up to 10th from 22nd.

“It felt a lot better, that’s for sure,” Cochran said. “It felt faster, more relaxed. First run was a struggle. I’m psyched for that, I’ll take it.”

Pranger secured Austria’s first men’s gold medal in the last event of the championships and denied host nation France the gold it desperately wanted.

“I wanted to win for myself but also for the team,” Pranger said through a translator. “We’ve been unlucky and had a difficult time at these championships.”

Pranger led after the first run, holding a 0.04 advantage over Sweden’s Johan Brolenius.

Brolenius and French favorite Jean-Baptiste Grange, who was third going into the final run, both fell in the second leg. Ted Ligety of the United States, who had been fifth, straddled the second gate as 13 skiers of the top 30 failed to get down a second time.

Ligety was looking to add to his bronze medal from the giant slalom on Friday.

“I didn’t know that if you just finished it was a medal easily,” Ligety said. “They set the whole course in the ruts from the first run. So many guys were going out because of the bumps and all you had to do was make it to the bottom.”

The 31-year-old Pranger, who skies only in the slalom, held his nerve to deliver a steady second run. It was his first medal at a major championships, to go with three World Cup victories.

The men’s slalom set up as the hardest-fought event of the championship with a host of proven big-race performers in contention.

But it also had perhaps the toughest racing surface prepared during a two-week event noted for icy conditions.

Miller, defending world champion Mario Matt and Olympic silver medalist Reinfried Herbst were all caught out by tight turns and a treacherous surface in the top half.

Herbst was a strong prerace favorite but quickly exited after his inside ski went from under him jumping into a left-hand turn.

Miller was looking to make history as the first man to win career gold medals in all five events at worlds, but never seemed comfortable and almost fell before failing to make a right-hand turn before halfway.

“I was pretty psyched,” Miller said. “Right out of the start I go to the first gate and I can’t get grip, then there’s nothing for me to do.”

The American star, who failed to win a medal for the third straight major championships, was unhappy that the surface was altered after the women’s slalom.

A fresh layer of ice crusted the course after crews spent Saturday evening tilling the surface then hosing water on the slalom track, which dropped 721 feet over a distance of 1,801 feet.

“The course held up perfectly (on Saturday),” Miller said. “I thought I would have had a real good chance with the way the women’s conditions were ” firm but chalky. Then I saw them on the hill injecting and I just don’t have the grip on that stuff.”

After the race Miller announced that he will take a rare midseason break, skipping two World Cup races ” a giant slalom and a super-combi ” in Sestriere, Italy, next weekend.

Lizeroux won his second silver medal of the championships, showing once again that he could control his nerves in front of the home crowd.

The 29-year-old Frenchman has been fourth fastest in the morning. He had been 22nd after the downhill portion of the super-combi event here Monday before producing the fastest slalom time to leap into the silver medal spot.

Janyk won Canada’s second medal at Val d’Isere after John Kucera’s gold in the downhill last weekend.

“I’m very surprised,” the 26-year-old Janyk said. “I knew I was skiing really well this season. I was just waiting for my opportunity and today was the day.”

He said his achievement was important for the team one year before it hosts the Winter Olympics at Vancouver.

“This is huge for us,” Janyk said, who lives at Whistler Mountain which will stage the alpine ski races. “I live five minutes from the finish line. We were really pushing. This is what we wanted and we got it. It is good to know I can do it.”

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