Matt Wins Final Race of the Year

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March 13, 2005

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman)--Austria's Mario Matt won the final World Cup slalom Sunday _ his first victory in more than four years _ and newly crowned overall champion Bode Miller completed a slalom for just the second time this season.

Matt, the 2001 world champion, maintained his lead from the first run to complete the sun-drenched course in a combined time of 1 minute, 22.81 seconds. He was fastest in the opening run and third in the second.

Alois Vogl of Germany was second in 1:23.54 and Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria was third in 1:23.55.

Miller finished in sixth place. He was 13th after a mistake in the opening leg but delivered a blistering second run.

Matt last won a World Cup race in November 2001, a slalom in Aspen, Colo. He also finished second in the slalom in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

``I was fast the entire season very fast, but today I finally got my goal,'' Matt said.

Matt has been clawing his way back into slalom's elite after falling out of the top-30 rankings following a shoulder injury in Kitzbuehel in 2002.

``And that is enormously difficult,'' said Matt, explaining that lower rankings mean higher starting numbers in races, a handicap for later skiers who kick out when course conditions have started to deteriorate.

Miller, the overall and super-G World Cup champion, won the only other slalom he completed this season, at the night race in Sestriere, Italy, on Dec. 13.

The 27-year-old American switched ski brands over the summer to place more emphasis on the speed races, but slumped in the tightest gate discipline and failed to finish seven of nine slaloms this season. He also went out in the slalom and the slalom legs of both the combined and team events at the world championships.

Austrians swept the top three places of the year-end discipline standings. Raich led with 552 points, Schoenfelder was second with 408 while Manfred Pranger, who went out in the first leg of Sunday's race, was third with 396.

Giorgio Rocca of Italy had been third in the standings but got no points from Sunday's race. In the second leg he went off course, hiked back up but completed the race too far behind the winning time to earn any points.

Matt finished sixth with 294 points.

In the final overall standings, Miller was first with 1,648 points. Raich was second with 1,454 while Hermann Maier, last year's overall winner, settled for third with 1,295.

Copyright à‚© 2005 The Associated Press