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KITZBUEHEL, Austria Jan. 24, 2005 (AP by Erica Bulman) – Austria’s Manfred Pranger cried on podium after winning a slalom Sunday for his first World Cup victory while Benjamin Raich cut into Bode Miller’s lead in the chase for the overall title.
Pranger covered the two runs in 1 minute, 31.51 seconds. Countryman Mario Matt, the 2001 world slalom champion, was runner-up and Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic prevented an Austrian sweep by finishing third.
Miller lost his balance and failed to join the top 30 for the second leg. He nearly swerved off course a few gates from the bottom and was forced to finish the gates from the reverse direction, leaving him 2.11 off the pace.
“I was getting stuck a lot,” Miller said. “The snow changes the whole way down. It’s little parts of really grippy snow and little parts of icy snow.”
It was the fifth slalom Miller has failed to finish this season. The only one the American completed was the night race he won in Sestriere, Italy, in mid-December.
Miller’s early exit allowed Raich to narrow the gap in the overall standings. The Austrian finished eighth and earned 32 points, leaving him 166 behind Miller. Miller, who leads with 1,048, earned 60 points in the last four races and Raich 192.
“I haven’t been skiing enough slalom to feel super comfortable on that,” Miller said. “But you see guys like Raich and (Kalle) Palander who ski a ton slalom and they’re still having problems there.”
The top U.S. skier was Ted Ligety in 12th place.
Pranger, known for his growls and grunts at the start of the race, became teary on the podium before 20,000 Austrian fans, including his blue-capped fan club, which recited a slow, solemn song in his honor.
“I was in the military six years ago and every Monday I would watch the Austrian flag being raised,” he said. “And I’d always dreamed that maybe one day that would happen for me at a ski race.”
Pranger was fourth last week and his previous top-three finish was second place in Flachau just more than a year ago. He had the fastest time in the opening leg at four previous slaloms, but each time was unable to keep his lead.
“Between the runs today, I started to doubt myself,” said Pranger, who has struggled with lower back pain this season. “That’s why it was especially fabulous when I finally crossed the finish line first.” Matt, who dislocated his shoulder on this course in 2002, was 0.12 behind the winner on the unpredictable Ganslern course. Kostelic was 0.24 back for his second straight top-three finish following second place last week in a slalom in Wengen, Switzerland.
World Cup slalom champion Rainer Schoenfelder, second after the opening leg, dropped to fourth. Canada’s Thomas Grandi was fifth, his best slalom result. Palander, third in the first run, slipped to 15th place.
Raich, who rallied from 22nd place after the first leg, extended his lead in the slalom standings. He is 82 points ahead of Giorgio Rocca, who went out in the first run.