March 13, 2005
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman)--Sweden's Anja Paerson held off Croatia's Janica Kostelic to win the overall World Cup title Sunday in a competition that came down to the final skier in the final race of the season.
``Janica and I were both standing there in the finish and we weren't sure who was going to win,'' Paerson said. ``That's the way it ski racing should be.''
Finland's Tanja Poutiainen, who already had clinched the slalom championship, captured the giant slalom title.
Spain's Marie Jose Rienda Contreras, the last skier of the day, won the final giant slalom in 2 minutes, 20.18 seconds. Poutiainen was second in 2:20.48, and Nicole Hosp of Austria was third in 2:20.69.
Paerson won the championship by three points after entering the race with a 35-point lead over Kostelic in the overall standings. She would have automatically won the title by finishing ahead of the Croat. But Kostelic was eighth and Paerson 17th.
Kostelic and Paerson hugged after the race, and then Kostelic kissed her Swedish rival on the cheek before pushing her into the center of the finish area.
``Maybe we're not best friends but we appreciate each other as skiers,'' Paerson said. ``I admire her. We're both great skiers.''
The Swede seemed on track to retain her overall title in the opening leg, finishing ahead of Kostelic, but things got tricky for Paerson in the second run.
Kostelic managed another strong performance in the second leg, crossing fourth. Paerson, running next, was uncharacteristically slow in her favorite discipline, 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. At the World Cup finals, only the top 15 finishers score points.
With one skier left, Kostelic was seventh and Paerson was already out of the top 15. But Rienda Contreras delivered a sizzling final run _ overcoming a mistake where she went wide _ to win the race and give Paerson the overall title by bumping Kostelic to eighth.
Paerson finished the season with 1,359 overall points, followed by Kostelic with 1,356.
``My problem was coming into the final with too few points,'' Kostelic said. ``I'm happy with second place because last year I wasn't even skiing. I wasn't disappointed. I was happy for Anja.''
At the world championships in Bormio, Italy, last month, Kostelic won every race she entered _ slalom, downhill and combined _ and Paerson took gold in the super-G and giant slalom.
Paerson took last year's overall trophy in the absence of Kostelic, who missed the entire season _ her thyroid was removed and she needed several knee operations.
Last year, the Swede won the overall on the basis of her 11 wins in the technical events of slalom and GS. This season, having developed into an all-around skier, she has only five victories _ but in every discipline.
``Last year I won without knowing I could win,'' Paerson said. ``This year I did well in all disciplines and I feel I'm more of an overall winner.
``Next year are the Olympics and the only thing I have left to win now is gold at the Olympics. I may not focus so much for the overall next year and maybe aim more for the Olympics although I may take a few globes just to be happy.''
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press