Austria’s Matt wins World Cup slalom |

Austria’s Matt wins World Cup slalom

Nesha Starcevic
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Mario Matt, of Austria, celebrates after winning an alpine ski, men's World Cup slalom race in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

ZAGREB, Croatia ” Two-time slalom world champion Mario Matt has another accomplishment to add to his resume.

The Austrian won the inaugural men’s World Cup slalom in Zagreb on Sunday, putting a damper on the homecoming of Ivica Kostelic, who learned to ski on the Sljeme hill outside the Croatian capital.

Kostelic was only 0.03 seconds behind Matt after the first run and had his sister Janica and the rest of the family among the 20,000 spectators.

Kostelic took the lead after his second run even though he made a few mistakes on the long, icy course.

“When I crossed the line and I saw that I was ahead at the time, it was like a shot in the arm,” said Kostelic, who fell on his back and raised his skis in the finish area.

Matt responded to the challenge, navigating the 69 gates without a major error to finish with an aggregate time of 1 minute, 51.36 seconds. It was the Austrian’s third win of the season and 11th of his career victory.

“I heard that Ivica had a good run and everyone was jumping up and down, it was difficult to focus on my run,” Matt said. “But I stayed calm and I was able to push myself.”

Kostelic ended up 0.33 seconds off the pace and Reinfried Herbst of Austria, who won one week ago in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, was third in 1:51.76.

Bode Miller of the United States, the overall World Cup leader, lost his balance at the bottom of the course and nearly crashed out in the first run. Although Miller managed to stay on his skis, he finished outside the top 30 and did not qualify for the second run, meaning he failed to pick up any points from the race.

Miller’s closest overall challenger, Benjamin Raich of Austria, fell in the second heat, got back up on his skis but finished 26th and did not gain significant ground. Miller has 1,067 points to lead Raich by 93.

The top American was Jimmy Cochrane in 19th place, while Cody Marshall was 23rd.

Kostelic has now finished among the top three in the last five races.

“This was my best race of the season and it took place in my city, in front of my fans, who are the best supporters in the world,” Kostelic said. “I felt like the eyes of entire Croatia were on me.”

“I made some mistakes in the second run,” he added.

Women have raced in Zagreb for four years, partly because of the Kostelic siblings. Janica, a multiple Olympic champion, is now retired. She also never won on her home hill.

Jean-Baptiste Grange of France crashed out in the second run but maintained his lead in the slalom standings with 462 points. Matt jumped to second with 405.

“I am not thinking of the title in this event, but I am in good shape and it’s possible,” Matt said. “There are two slalom races left and I’ll try my best.”

The next slalom race is in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on March 9.

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