- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

ARE, SWEDEN (AP) - Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway clinched his second overall World Cup title by a record-low two-point margin on Saturday, winning when Benjamin Raich of Austria straddled a gate in the opening run of the final slalom of the season.

“I could have clinched it in the giant slalom yesterday, but now it was up to Raich and he skied out,” Svindal said. “Today I was lucky. It’s not luck to get over 1,000 points in the World Cup. But to win by two points after he skis out is luck.”

Bode Miller, the defending men’s overall champion, sat out the last three weekends in Europe and skipped the World Cup finals. The American did not won a race this season has yet to decide on retirement.

Svindal competed in the first three races _ the downhill, super-G and the giant slalom _ at these finals despite a cold and high fever at night.

“Waking up today I was feeling much better than yesterday,” he said. “Also, yesterday I was really disappointed. I had the ‘match point’ _ I had the chance to take the overall. I wasn’t anywhere close.

“But after a couple of hours, it was like ‘You know, this has been a great week, the season has been great. If I’m ending up second in the overall, I’m very happy with that. Benjamin deserves to win.’”

Mario Matt of Austria, who captured the slalom gold medal on the same hill at the 2007 world championships, won the race in a two-run total of 1 minute, 45.71 seconds for his 12th World Cup victory.

Jean-Baptiste of France won the slalom championship with 541 points after finishing third behind Julien Lizeroux of France.

Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who finished well back, took second in the final slalom standings with 454 points.

Raich, the only skier who could catch Svindal, trailed the Norwegian 1,009-1,007 going into the final race of the season. That proved to be the final standings as both were disqualified Saturday.

The winning margin was the smallest in World Cup history, and the winning total for Svindal _ who also missed a gate _ was the lowest ever.

Frenchman Luc Alphand set the previous lowest total for overall points when he had 1,130 in 1997.

Raich, who started first, quickly found his rhythm and skied smoothly through the first gates at the top of the course before straddling a gate about halfway down.

“I had a really good feeling,” Raich said. “I was in shape today. I was fast. I missed this gate up there and that was it.

“The slalom is sometimes a little bit disappointing and crazy. I’m empty now. I was focused on this race and now it’s done. I don’t know what I will have to do now. But I will recover very soon. Everything will be better tomorrow.”

The 26-year-old Svindal, a speed event specialist who also won the overall title in 2007, missed the fourth gate.

It was not a big surprise because he did not qualify for the second run in a single slalom race this season.

The Norwegian made a strong comeback this season after crashing heavily in downhill training at Beaver Creek, Colo., in November 2007, injuring his face, ribs and back to end his season when he was defending the overall World Cup title.

In addition to his second World Cup overall and the super-G season title at Are this week, he won the super-combined gold and a super-G bronze at the World Championship last month at Val d’Isere, France.

The 31-year-old Raich, a three-time winner of the World Cup slalom season title and who also won Olympic and world championship golds in the slalom, failed to pick up points in four of 10 slaloms this season.

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