Winter sports: Slovakia's Velez Zuzulova wins women's World Cup night slalom
Semmering, Austria • Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia upset the favorites to win a World Cup night slalom Saturday for her first career victory.
She trailed overall World Cup leader Tina Maze by 0.55 seconds after the opening leg but overtook the Slovenian with a near-flawless final run. Velez Zuzulova finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 37.28 seconds. Kathrin Zettel of Austria was 0.10 back. Maze was third, 0.20 behind.
The rest of the field finished more than a second behind Velez Zuzulova, who celebrated her victory by lying face-down in the snow in the finish area for about 30 seconds.
"A while ago I was almost thinking that it's impossible to win one day," said the 28-year-old Velez Zuzulova, who has been racing on the World Cup circuit since 2000.
The Slovakian, who married her French coach Romain Velez in the offseason, said attacking was her only tactic for the final run.
"After the first run I was really happy," Velez Zuzulova said. "But the second run was really difficult, as I knew Kathrin had a good time. I had to attack; it was the only way I could win."
Zettel said she was "super happy" to finish second.
"To get this result in front of your home crowd is such a great feeling," she said.
Teenager Mikeala Shiffrin of Vail, Colo., who led the slalom standings going into the race, was in fourth place after the first run but straddled a gate and didn't finish her second run.
Defending overall champion Lindsey Vonn missed the race while recovering from an intestinal illness, and world slalom champion Marlies Schild of Austria is out for three months after knee surgery.
Maze earned her 11th podium finish of the season, took the lead in the slalom standings and extended her overall lead. But she still couldn't hide her disappointment about losing her commanding first-run lead.
Maze leads the overall World Cup standings with 1,059 points, 427 ahead of Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who finished fourth in the night slalom. Vonn is 645 points behind in fifth place.
"I am bit emotional," Maze said. "The year is ending; I am skiing so good. It's amazing."
Vonn has yet to decide if she will return to the circuit for speed racing from Jan. 10-13 at one of her favorite venues, St. Anton, Austria, said U.S. women's coach Alex Hoedlmoser.
"Lindsey is working hard on her physical fitness and she is doing ski training," Hoedlmoser told The Associated Press. "However, we are not putting her under any pressure and we have not set a date. The decision is completely up to Lindsey and the people she's working with now. It would be useless to return when she's not back at full strength."
Shiffrin topped the slalom standings after her first career victory last week in Are, Sweden. She was 0.87 back in fourth after the opening run before skiing out in her second.
"This is only my second year racing World Cups and every experience is new. I am trying to learn as fast as I can," she said. "Wearing the red bib (as leader of the slalom standings) was my dream ever since I was little, but I never put a date on it. I didn't really think about it at the start; it was just another bib at just another race."
The women's World Cup continues with two more slaloms in Munich on Jan. 1 and a night race three days later in Zagreb, Croatia.
BORMIO, Italy • Hannes Reichelt of Austria and Dominik Paris of Italy shared a downhill victory in one of the closest races in skiing history Saturday, with the top four finishers separated by a mere two-hundredths of a second.
Paris took the early lead by clocking 1 minute, 58.62 seconds for his first career win and Reichelt matched him to give Austria its first speed win of the season.
Overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished third, 0.01 seconds behind the smallest possible margin. Klaus Kroell of Austria was fourth, missing out on a podium finish despite being just 0.02 behind the winners.
"On a hill as tough as this to have a race that close, that's surprising," Svindal said. "The crazy thing is we were fast in different sections."
In the super-G at the 1999 world championships in Vail, Colo., Lasse Kjus and Hermann Maier shared victory, with Hans Knauss 0.01 behind in third. However, the fourth-place finisher in that race, Stephan Eberharter, was 0.22 back.
The top American finisher was Travis Ganong in seventh for his best career result.
There was also a downhill in Panorama, British Columbia, in 1992 won by William Besse, with Daniel Mahrer and Guenther Mader sharing second each 0.01 behind.
Among the women, there was a three-way victory in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, in 2002 between Nicole Hosp, Tina Maze and Andrine Flemmen.
"It's for sure the tightest race I've ever been in," added Svindal, who sat out training Friday with a sore throat. "Obviously 0.01 is extremely tight and you wonder what you could have done to be faster than the winner, but that's always the case. The race is over. I had a good run and I'll take third place today."
Early, it looked like the race might be remembered as an Italian sweep, with Paris, Werner Hell and Christof Innerhofer sitting 1-2-3 through 13 starters. With Italian great Alberto Tomba on hand, the local fans were going wild.
Reichelt was then faster than Paris at each checkpoint, but he lost time on the bottom section and crossed dead even prompting the fans to cheer again.
Svindal made a slight error near the end of his run nearly going down on one hip but battled to regain his balance.
"It definitely wasn't my best turn on the hill, but I didn't crash and I saved a third place," Svindal said.
Svindal turned 30 earlier this week, came down with a sore throat.
"I tried warm up yesterday but it wasn't a good day for me," he said. "I decided if I wanted to have any chance, I needed to rest. I went to bed and read some books and rested up for today."
Svindal matched Michael Walchhofer's record from 2004 of six podiums in speed events before New Year's.
"I'm on a very good roll," Svindal said. "Every day other guys are fast, too, but I'm always right there."
With 674 points, Svindal also extended his overall lead ahead of Marcel Hirscher of Austria (560) and Ted Ligety (537) of the United States both technical specialists who did not race. He also still leads the downhill standings.
Kroell was the last of the favorites to ski and was 0.20 faster than the leaders at the final checkpoint. But when he crossed the line and saw the results board, he buried his face in his hands.
"Fourth is not bad, but it's not fair to lose by 0.02," Kroell said. "I don't have any joy at all. I'm the (fool) of the day. ... My finish was very bad."
Reichelt earned the first downhill win of his career. He has also won four super-G's and one giant slalom, and took silver in super-G at the last world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
"I see myself as an all-around racer," Reichelt said. "I can win in three disciplines."
Paris' only previous podium result was a second two seasons ago in a downhill in Chamonix, France. The Italian moved up to second in the downhill standings, 92 points behind Svindal.
It was the third speed victory for the Italian men's team this season, after Innerhofer won a downhill and Matteo Marsaglia took a super-G in Beaver Creek, Colo.
"We have a great group and we're always pushing each other," Paris said. "Winning my first race before my home fans is truly something special."
Ganong was pleased with his performance on the sun-splashed mountain.
"When I train I push it to a certain amount and it's smooth and fast and consistent, and I reached that level today," Ganong said.
Always known as one of the most physically demanding courses on the circuit, several racers fell as they battled exhaustion on the lower section.
Andrej Sporn of Slovenia was the first to go down, within sight of the finish. He got up and skied down under his own power. Joachim Puchner of Austria crashed into the nets but also appeared to escape serious injury.
In all, 11 racers failed to finish.
Ganong battled through fatigue near the end of his run.
"When I went off the San Pietro jump, I was (completely) dehydrated," said the skier from Squaw Valley, Calif. "Then my legs went numb and I just tried to stick on my line.
"But if you really just push two turns, that's the whole bottom part, so I really just saved my energy a little bit and pushed on those last two. I could barely stop when I crossed the finish line, but it was good and I was happy."
The next stop on the circuit is a special city event in Munich on New Year's Day for select athletes. Speed specialists have a break until the mid-January classic races in Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Oberhof, Germany • Kikkan Randall of the United States claimed her second cross-country World Cup victory of the season when she won the prologue event of the Tour de Ski on Saturday.
Randall clinched the 3.1-kilometer sprint by leaving Charlotte Kalla of Sweden 4.4 seconds behind. World Cup leader Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland was third.
The tour consists of seven events over nine days in Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Randall finished last season's series in 10th place and was second in the sprint prologue.
Petter Northug of Norway won the men's 4-kilometer prologue to stretch his World Cup lead. Northug beat Marcus Hellner of Sweden by 6.1 seconds, while Alexander Legkov of Russia was 7.2 seconds behind. Three-time tour winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland was fourth.
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