Disrupted Race Won by Pranger

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SCHLADMING, Austria Jan. 26, 2005 (AP by Erica Bulman) - Austria's Manfred Pranger won his second World Cup slalom in three days on Tuesday, overcoming a timing error that relegated him fourth instead of second after the opening run.

Pranger, who won the tough slalom in Kitzbuehel on Sunday, won the night event on the tricky Planai course in a combined 1 minute, 47.13 seconds. ``It was an unbelievable feeling. Unreal, very hard to believe,'' Pranger said of the timing error. ``But I tried to concentrate on my skiing. It wasn't easy, but once I was in the start it was a bit easier. It was also the reason I was so delighted in my second run.''

Last year's winner, Benjamin Raich, was second in 1:47.17, while Sweden's Andre Myhrer finished third in 1:47.37.

American Bode Miller, the World Cup overall leader who was sixth after a conservative opening run, straddled a gate on his second run. Miller has failed to finish six of seven slaloms this season.

The first run was marred by timing errors. Pranger stormed down the opening run to finish second. However, he was dropped to fourth after slow motion video replays showed the clock had stopped before he and Italy's Giorgio Rocca crossed the finish line.

Initially, Rocca was clocked fastest in the first heat in 51.11, Pranger was second, Raich third, and teammate Rainer Schoenfelder fourth. After the corrections, Rocca's time was increased to 51.61, though he held on to first. Raich, whose time remained unchanged, moved up to second. Schoenfelder climbed to third with a changed time, and Pranger dropped to fourth, after his time was increased.

Schoenfelder's first time was originally more than 3 1/2 seconds quicker than Rocca's before it was corrected.

After watching the jumbo screen at the finish, the Austrian team demanded the times be investigated. Austrian Ski Federation president Peter Schroecksnadel, Austrian men's head coach Toni Giger, World Cup race director Guenther Hujara and Austria's alpine team director Hans Pum huddled in the timing shack with technicians, delaying the start of the second run to settle the issue.

Three backup systems were consulted and the times of Rocca and Pranger rectified. World Cup race director Guenther Hujara confiscated all the printouts of all the results and times delivered throughout the competition after two timing errors and a data glitch were found.

``There is no problem,'' insisted Schroecksnadel, who hired race timekeeper Siemens. ``Maybe someone threw a snowball in front of the finish line. But we checked with the backup systems and the three had the same time.'' The Italian federation launched a protest after Rocca's opening run time was changed, but that was rejected. Rocca skidded off course shortly before the finish in the second run.

An official with the timing company told Austrian television station ORF that the problem had to do with impulses, such as snowballs thrown onto the course in front of the timing sensors, just before the skiers crossed the finish line. Timekeeping, which until recently has rarely been questioned in World Cup ski racing, has become a serious problem this year.

The World Cup had been in turmoil since the sudden withdrawal of its official timekeeping sponsor, Swatch.

Swatch abandoned its timekeeping and data processing duties after discovering it did not have the worldwide exclusivity it had been promised by the FIS. Swatch will be handling the timing and data at the world championships in Bormio because it has a separate contract.

``In the past it was never a problem,'' Hujara said. ``We now have this case, since the first races in Soelden, where different associations have different contracts with timing companies and there is a big problem with timing and data links.

``I always said this might cause a problem and today we had a timing problem.'' Races in Altenmarkt and Maribor also experienced timing irregularities. ``It's always hard when yyou see on videos things that are clearly not accurate,'' Miller said. ``At that point you're always questioning things.''