HAFJELL, Norway March 16, 2003 (AP by Stephan Nasstrom)–Kalle Palander won the slalom title with a second-place finish Sunday, becoming the first Finn to win a World Cup discipline.
Palander, who had won four straight slalom races, finished second to Italy’s Giorgio Rocca in the final race of the season and held off a late challenge by defending champion Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.
“It’s fantastic, of course, to win the slalom title,” Palander said. “For the first time in my life I felt pressure before the second run. It felt funny.”
Rocca had a two-run time of 1 minute, 45.44 seconds on the Olympia course, site of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, for his second win of the season. Palander finished 0.41 back. Austria’s Manfred Pranger was third, 0.54 off the pace.
American Erik Schlopy tied for ninth, and teammate Chip Knight finished 16th. Bode Miller was disqualified in the second run.
Kostelic, the older brother of women’s overall champion Janica Kostelic, finished seventh.
Palander led Kostelic by only 34 points entering the race and knew he had to ski well to protect his advantage.
“It went off very well and I even took some risks on the upper part of the course,” said Palander, who won the slalom at the 1999 World Championships. “I thought it would be best not to ski safe early.
“I felt well because I had a couple of good stretches and toward the end I knew that there were a couple of very difficult gates, so I slowed down a bit. I knew that my run would be enough to come high up.”
Kostelic was not surprised by Palander’s strong finish.
“He was always there somewhere,” Kostelic said. “And you can always expect that a guy who is fourth a few times earlier in the season will eventually come through.”
Austria’s Benjamin Raich, the 2001 World Cup slalom champ, led by 0.09 after the first run, but dropped to eighth, finishing 1.72 behind.
Austria’s Stephan Eberharter, who did not compete in the slalom, topped the final overall standings with 1,333 points. Miller finished second with 1,100 points, and Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt was third with 940. Daron Rahlves finished sixth with 647 points.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press