Palander Wins Slalom

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PARK CITY, Utah, Nov 23, 2003 (AP) --Finland's Kalle Palander can still claim the title of best slalom skier in the world.

The defending World Cup champion won the first slalom of the season, then sat through a lengthy delay to find out who finished behind him.

"It was a little bit cold, actually, standing outside," Palander said with a chuckle about waiting for nearly an hour to stand on top of the podium.

Palander, who won four slaloms last year to become the first Finish skier to win a World Cup title, had a combined time of 1:35.91, good enough for first even if Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder's disputed redo in the opening run was allowed to stand.

American Bode Miller fell late in the first run and was disqualified, but still leads the overall World Cup standings by winning the first two giant slaloms of the season, including Saturday's race in Park City.

The slalom season opened Sunday and Palander was quickly in contention by claiming the fastest time of the first run at 47.24. Schoenfelder, who won the slalom at Park City a year ago, tied Palander when he was awarded a provisional second chance on his opening run.

Schoenfelder claimed a course worker who had fallen next to a gate distracted him and caused him to go off the course. Race officials let him take it over after an initial ruling, but after the final run received 10 protests and reviewed video footage and eyewitness accounts a second time.

The repeated run was thrown out because Schoenfelder did not immediately stop and say the downed worker, who had a broken hip, caused his slip-up, course referee Gunther Hujara said.

Schoenfelder's combined time had been two-hundredths of a second behind Palander. The Austrian Ski Federation immediately appealed the decision, which listed Schoenfelder as not finishing the first run.

"We did something which might be unique now," Hujara said. "Whether this was right or not, this can be found by other people. We do not block any legal process."

Hujara said the appeal could be decided by as early as next weekend. If the ruling stands, Austrian Manfred Pranger will hang on to second place with a time .69 seconds behind Palander. Georgia Rocca of Italy finished third (1:36.60).

Palander survived the steep Picabo's run, which had a combined 19 skiers on both runs that didn't finish, on a sunny but cold afternoon. He stood at the bottom and waited for Schoenfelder on the final run, then pumped his skis and poles in triumph when he saw the Austrian's time was just slower.

"I was sure that I'm going to be winning. For me, it was just a joke that he could ski his second run," Palander, who placed fifth in the GS on Saturday. "I actually didn't care if he's on the start or not. I was a little bit surprised that he was skiing. But it wasn't a problem. Afterward, they did the right decision."

Tom Rothrock of Cashmere, Wash., held the lead for eight skiers midway through the second run and was the top American, tying for eighth (1:37.52). It was Rothrock's first World Cup top-10 finish.

"My first run, I wasn't very clean. I had a lot of mistakes, so I was happy to lay down a good second run," Rothrock said. "There's just nothing better than coming down and being in first place _ it just makes you feel really good.

"The American crowd cheering for you, it's just so sweet."

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