Italy's Rocca Wins 5th World Cup Slalom

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WENGEN, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman) - Giorgio Rocca has etched his name alongside some of the greatest skiers of all time. The Italian won his fifth consecutive slalom race Sunday, joining Alberto Tomba, Ingemar Stenmark and Marc Girardelli as the only men to accomplish that feat in a single season.

"It is a big honor to have my name in the history of skiing, said Rocca, who finished with a combined time of 1 minutes, 42.28 seconds.

Overall World Cup champion Bode Miller's day wasn't nearly as successful.

Miller was 20th in the opening run after going sideways following a tight turn, and brushing his right hip on the snow before pulling off another trademark recovery.

He switched to a different pair of skis and delivered the day's fastest second run to finish in eighth place with a time of 1:43.67.

"I still felt really awkward, but at least I won the second run, Miller said. "My first run was better except for (a) huge mistake, which cost me more than a second in three gates.

"I changed skis between runs and that was great, but also tough. I had no training (on the news skis), nothing. I hadn't skied on that ski in a long time. I kicked straight out of the gate on a totally different ski.

Rocca, who had 0.30 seconds to make up after the second run, fought back from fourth place to win.

Tomba holds the record for consecutive slalom wins with seven in the 1994-95 season. He also won the two last slaloms of the previous season, bringing the streak to nine. Swedish legend Stenmark swept five slalom victories in the 1976-77 season, and had another pair of five-win streaks over two seasons. Luxembourg's Girardelli won five straight in 1984-85. With 11 World Cup victories, Rocca is the most successful Italian slalom specialist behind Tomba, who had 50 career World Cup wins, 35 in slalom.

Rocca's fifth win of the season also marked the fourth time World Cup overall leader Benjamin Raich of Austria squandered a first-run lead.

Raich held an advantage of 0.15 heading into the second leg, but straddled just three gates into the run.

"It's very disappointing, of course. I was in good shape today, said Raich, who also failed to complete his second runs at the Beaver Creek and Kranjska Gora slaloms last month. "It was important for me to win this race.

"But, in general, Wengen was very good for me. I was first in combined, that's perfect even if today is not good. I'm in good shape. I'm increasing my overall (lead), but it's a long season.

Finland's Kalle Palander, who was fifth after the opening run, finished runner-up in 1:42.48. Alois Vogl of Germany, the winner here last year, was third in 1:42.79.

"He's got five wins. I was thinking that if he wins the next two slaloms, I wouldn't like to be him going into the Olympics, Palander said of Rocca. "I'd like to be me. It's a lot of pressure for him at home in Italy.

But Rocca said his infant son Giacomo, who was at the finish with mother Tania, is his good luck charm. Since his son's birth on Nov. 21, Rocca has won every slalom he has entered.

"He is 50 days old,'' Rocca said. "He is a lucky baby. I win everything in slalom since he is born.

"Seriously, winning five brings me more confidence than pressure. I think I have found the key to not making mistakes.

Japan's Kentaro Minagawa finished fourth in 1:42.90 for his best career result, after failing to finish his last two slalom races.

American Ted Ligety, who has three slalom podium finishes this season but is still seeking his first career World Cup win, was third after the opening leg but dropped to fifth after committing several minor technical errors throughout his second run.

Two World Cup slaloms remain before the Olympics in Turin next month - at the Austrian resorts of Kitzbuehel and Schladming.