Paerson Beats Kostelic for Overall Title by Smallest of Margins

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March 13, 2005

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Anja Paerson woke up Sunday, learned the final race of the season was delayed and calculated what she needed to do to beat Janica Kostelic for her second consecutive overall World Cup title.

She couldn't have possibly calculated this: The Swede won with the smallest margin of victory _ three points _ since skiing's current point system was introduced 13 years ago. She also tied the smallest margin in the 38-season history of the World Cup, courtesy of a 0.09-second time differential.

In fact, the battle between the two top female skiers came down to the final racer of the season-ending giant slalom, Paerson's specialty.

``Janica and I were both standing there in the finish and we weren't sure who was going to win. That's the way ski racing should be,'' Paerson said. ``I woke up really early this morning and saw the weather and wasn't really positive about it. But I was already calculating where I needed to be.''

Among the men, Mario Matt won a slalom for his first victory in more than four years. Benjamin Raich had already clinched the season's slalom title.

After all the racing was complete, Bode Miller received his overall trophy, a title that was sealed Saturday when he became the first American overall winner in 22 years.

The women's race was won by Maria Jose Rienda Contreras, the last skier of the day who won with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 20.18 seconds. Finland's Tanja Poutiainen was 0.30 behind, and Austria's Nicole Hosp of Austria was third, 0.51 back.

Paerson began Sunday with a 35-point lead over Kostelic in the overall standings, and she would have automatically won the title by finishing ahead of the Croat.

The Swede seemed on track for the title in the opening leg, finishing ahead of Kostelic, but things got tricky for Paerson in the second run. Kostelic was fourth after her run. Paerson, running next, was uncharacteristically slow, finishing just within the points in 13th place with four racers to go.

Kostelic could have secured the title by finishing seventh or higher as long Paerson fell out of the top 15, the only positions to score points at World Cup finals.

With one skier left, Kostelic was seventh and Paerson was already out of the top 15. But Rienda Contreras of Spain delivered a sizzling final run to win and give Paerson the overall title by bumping Kostelic to eighth. Paerson ended up 17th.

The difference between Kostelic and seventh-place Martina Ertl of Germany was 0.09 seconds.

``It comes down to a few hundredths every time, and I don't think that's going to change for the next few years,'' Paerson said, referring to her rivalry with Kostelic.

Paerson finished the season with 1,359 overall points, followed by Kostelic with 1,356. Kostelic, who entered the finals 63 points behind Paerson, said her ``problem was coming into the final with too few points.''

``I'm happy with second place because last year I wasn't even skiing. I wasn't disappointed. I was happy for Anja,'' Kostelic said.

At last month's world championships, Kostelic won every race she entered _ slalom, downhill and combined _ and Paerson took the gold in the super giant slalom and giant slalom in the two races Kostelic sat out. Paerson also took last year's overall in the absence of Kostelic, who missed the entire season because of illness and injury.

Last season, Paerson won on the basis of her 11 wins in the technical events of slalom and GS. She had only five victories this season, but in every discipline.

``Last year, I won without knowing I could win,'' she said. ``This year I did well in all disciplines and I feel I'm more of an overall winner.''

Rienda Contreras said she knew about the overall situation before her final run.

``But I didn't think about them,'' she said. ``I thought about myself.''

Coopyright à‚© 2005 The Associated Press