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SESTRIERE, Italy March 14, 2004 (USST) – Defending champion Kalle Palander of Finland won the last World Cup slalom of the season Sunday but lost his title when Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder was second, just five-hundredths back, to clinch the World Cup SL championship, making Palander second in both SL and giant slalom. Bode Miller (Franconia, NH), who captured the GS crown, finished seventh – not enough to move into third place overall – with Tom Rothrock (Cashmere, WA) 23rd.
After the final race of World Cup Finals, Miller – who had gotten a sneak peek during a surprise visit, arranged by International Ski Federation and Joska crystal officials, at the U.S. Ski Team’s request, Saturday night at a Ski Team reception – was presented his crystal globe as World Cup giant slalom champion. The Ski Team finished third in Nations Cup points, finishing 64 points behind Italy to equal the Ski Team’s finish a year ago when it was the best performance since 1983.
A day after heavy snow and fog forced cancellation of the men’s giant slalom, with Miller being declared champion, racers were greeted by good weather and mostly sunshine for the last race of the season. Austrian Hermann Maier collected the fourth World Cup overall title of his career when teammate Stephan Eberharter elected not to run slalom in a bid to make-up the 42-point margin behind Maier.
Palander started the day 55 points behind Schoenfelder and won in 1:49.67. However, with the Austrian taking second place (1:49.72), he stayed close enough to protect his points lead as he moved up from third a year ago. Miller, the only athlete – male or female – to ski in every race over the last two seasons, had a two-run time of 1:50.36 and Rothrock finished in 1:51.73.
Finishing seventh brought 36 points for Miller, who was second overall a year ago to Eberharter, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Austrian Beni Raich, who was 10th in the slalom, in the overall tally. However, by finishing fourth with Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) fifth, it was the first time the U.S. Ski Team has two men in the top five overall since 1982 when Phil Mahre won the overall championship and twin brother Steve finished third.
“They were two good courses, but easy…and it’s an easy hill,” said Men’s SL/GS Head Coach Mike Morin. “So, when you put an easy course on an easy hill, one small mistake becomes very costly because the times are stacked in there so tightly. You can’t make mistakes.
“The first run seemed a little perplexing for Bode – he buried that edge too hard and that slowed him,” Morin said. “His second run was quite good but with the big guns after the title, Bode wasn’t gunning for the title and he had a different intensity. ‘Rotty’ trained well all week and I thought he was ready – with the cut-down field (top 25 plus World Juniors SL gold medalist) – to get another top-10 finish. But he skied too conservatively. That was disappointing.”
The U.S. Ski Team heads next to the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships, which begin later this week at Alyeska resort in Alaska. A FIS downhill is scheduled Thursday with the championships downhill Friday.