Bakke Is New World Cup Slalom Leader

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Maribor, Slovenia, Jan. 7 (AP by Vania Grandi)-- Norway's Trine Bakke, the new World Cup slalom leader, faces fierce competition in the race for the title.

Bakke vaulted atop the slalom standings Thursday when she charged down a World Cup slalom course to capture her first season victory and her second ever.

She surpassed Croat sensation Janica Kostelic, who is sidelined with a knee injury suffered last month in a downhill crash.

``My goal is to win the slalom World Cup title,'' Bakke said. ``I hope to be on the podium in every race.''

But it won't be easy.

Close at the Norwegian's heels are France's Christel Saioni, Austrian Sabine Egger and Slovenian Spela Pretnar. All are within 75 points, less than the 100 points awarded for a win.

Bakke and her three rivals have each taken home one slalom trophy this season. The 18-year-old Kostelic won two before she was hurt.

``This makes the races more exciting for fans,'' Bakke said. ``The title is wide open.''

The Norwegian attacked the twisty slalom course Thursday, posting the quickest time in both runs and finishing nearly a second ahead of Pretnar.

``I knew Pretnar was very close after the first run,'' said Bakke, whose combined time was 1 minute, 41.90 seconds. ``I was under pressure to beat her.''

Pretnar, cheered wildly by some 12,000 fans who lined the course, crossed the finish line in 1:42.77.

``I am surprised I managed to stay focused in front of these huge crowds,'' Pretnar said. ``It shows I am very stable psychologically, which gives me a lot of confidence.''

Skiing is the national sport in this tiny country, and athletes are under great pressure to perform.

Egger, winner of last week's slalom in Lienz, Austria, was third in 1:42.99.

A slalom specialist, Bakke, 24, won the bronze medal in slalom at the Vail World Championships last year.

Her only World Cup triumph prior to Thursday was in slalom last year in St. Anton, Austria.

American Sarah Schleper scored a personal best Thursday, finishing seventh.

Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister maintained her overall World Cup lead, ahead of teammate Renate Goetschl, last year's World Cup downhill champion.

The women next compete in a giant slalom and slalom in Berchtesgaden, Germany, this weekend.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press