Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria March 6, 2002 (AP by Erica Bulman)--Caroline Lalive showed what she can do when she stays upright on a ski slope.
The American, who failed to finish any of her three races in the Salt Lake City Olympics, finished second Wednesday behind overall World Cup champion Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria in the season's final downhill race.
``I'm totally shocked,'' Lalive said after her best career downhill result. ``This is huge for me.''
Another Austrian, Stephan Eberharter, won the final men's downhill at the World Cup Finals. He already had clinched the overall World Cup title.
He won for the sixth time in 10 World Cup downhills this season. Ambrosi Hoffmann of Switzerland was second and Hannes Trinkl of Austria was third.
Among the American men, Daron Rahlves was 20th and Adam Cole was 25th.
Dorfmeister finished in 1 minute, 40.09 seconds. Lalive, starting 21st in a field of 22, was 0.19 back, just one-hundredth of a second ahead of third-place Melanie Suchet of France.
Other U.S. finishers were Julia Mancuso in fifth place and Kirsten Clark in eighth.
``The focus was not so much on finishing,'' Lalive said. ``I don't put much stock in that. I knew I could finish. I just needed to make some improvements, to ski well technically. I just wanted to ski strong and aggressive and not focus on the result.''
She had problem after problem at the Olympics.
First, Lalive crashed in the downhill. Then she fell in the first slalom run of the combined event, in which she was considered a medal contender. She got back on her skis and completed the run but decided to pull out after finishing 29th of 30 skiers.
And to top it all off, she took a nasty spill just seconds into the Super G two days later.
Lalive has had similar problems in the past at major events.
In all, she has failed to finish nine consecutive Olympic or world championship races, dating to 1999.
``As much as I didn't feel like I was under pressure, subconsciously I was,'' Lalive said. ``As much as I was telling myself there was no pressure, I placed huge expectations on myself. I so badly wanted to do well. And not being able to perform was heartbreaking.
``I look back on the Olympics and it's kind of surreal. I don't even really remember walking into the opening ceremonies.''
She thinks a change in attitude was responsible for her impressive result here.
``The Olympics were an incredible heartbreak for me, but at the same time I learned a lot,'' Lalive said. ``It's a process. Before the Olympics my entire focus was on medals, but that's just an incredible bonus in life and not the sole purpose. I lost sight of that and the things that led me to skiing.
``In the future I'm just going to take things one step at a time and not jump all the way to the finish. Today I focused on execution, and the result came.''
While most of the later skiers struggled on the badly softening snow, Lalive appeared at ease.
``The timing was perfect,'' she said. ``Ending the season strong gives me lots to look ahead to next year.''
Dorfmeister finished second to Isolde Kostner of Italy in the final downhill standings.
``I'm very happy with the downhill result because I wasn't sure I could win,'' Dorfmeister said. ``But with the World Cup overall title, I haven't really realized yet what it means. I have to take a while to digest it all.''
Eberharter finished in 1:41.80, with Hoffmann at 1:42.07 and Trinkl at 1:42.26.
Eberharter won gold, silver and bronze medals in Salt Lake City, and Wednesday wrapped up the World Cup downhill crown in addition to the overall championship.
``It was a great feeling,'' he said. ``It's been a wonderful year for me. I'm very happy the way my career has turned around.''
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