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St. Anton, Austria Feb. 10, 2001 (AP by Erica Bulman)–Austria’s Mario Matt overcame waning confidence and beat teammate Benjamin Raich to win the gold medal in the men’s slalom, the final race of the World Championships Saturday.
The two medals gave the Austrian men a championship-high 11, including three golds, also more than any other nation. Their total was four fewer than in 1999 at Vail, Colo., where they had five golds and nine of 15 total medals.
The United States got only one medal _ a gold by Daron Rahlves in the men’s super-G.
Matt won a slalom at Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, and had two other medal finishes early in the season, establishing himself as a contender for the world title.
But after failing to complete the two races before the championships, while Raich was winning three times, the odds were not in Matt’s favor coming into the meet.
However, an unexpected silver medal in the combined event behind Norway’s Kjetil-Andre Aamodt earlier in the week, provided the lift the young Austrian needed.
“After the slaloms in Kitzbuehel, I was insecure,” Matt said. “So the silver medal in the combined event gave me some confidence again. Now I feel absolutely wonderful.”
Raich took the lead in the opening leg by .04 seconds.
But a near-perfect second effort down the soft Fang course, combined with a critical mistake by Raich, launched Matt into first place with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 39.66 seconds, for his first major international title in front of 50,000 screaming fans.
“It is indescribable,” Matt said. “I haven’t raced before such a great crowd _ madness. I wanted gold and risked everything.
“After the start, I could hear the crowd cheering, but I did not put pressure on myself.”
Raich, who nearly flew off the course midway on his second trip down, settled for silver at 1:39.81.
“I’m not sure if I’m glad or sad,” Raich said. “We have a worthy world champion.
“I knew Mario was leading, but I did not know the margin. I tried everything but was not that successful.”
Raich, 22, and Matt, 21, are considered the “young wolves” on the Austrian team.
Slovenia’s Mitja Kunc prevented an Austrian sweep of the medals, taking the bronze at 1:40.36.
With the second run set by one of their coaches, three Slovenians, Kunc, Rene Mlekuz and Jure Kosir, posted the fastest three times of the second run.
“After the first run I did not think of winning a medal,” said Kunc, who was seventh, 1.34 seconds back after the opening leg. “The second run was good. The bronze medal is great.
“The Austrians were unbeatable in this moment.”
Mlekuz finished fifth, behind Austria’s Heinz Schilchegger. Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria was sixth, and Aamodt, who had been seeking his third medal of the championships, finished seventh. Kosir, the Olympic bronze medalist in 1994, was eighth.
American Erik Schlopy finished 21st.
Olympic gold medalist Hans-Petter Buraas of Norway and defending champion Kalle Palander of Finland failed to finish the first run.
The slalom course had to be moved to the bottom of the downhill course after heavy snowfall and wind, followed by mild weather, ruined the original course.
Among the spectators were Russian President Vladimir Putin, a skiing enthusiast. He congratulated the winners at the medal ceremony.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press