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Americans, not Austrians, dominate World Cup slopes

12/18/2006

ALTA BADIA, Italy -- The Americans helped shut out the
traditionally strong Austrians at World Cup events over the
weekend.

Ted Ligety's second-place finish in Monday's World Cup slalom
gave the U.S. team an unprecedented two wins and two second-place
finishes during four days of racing.

Bode Miller began the weekend with a super-G victory in Val
Gardena on Friday and Steven Nyman won the classic Saslong downhill
for his first career victory Saturday. Miller finished second in
Sunday's giant slalom before Ligety's runner-up finish Monday.

"Two firsts, two seconds -- pretty good show by the boys," U.S.
coach Phil McNichol said. "That's a podium in every discipline,
and that's epic."

Miller crashed out Monday in the first run of the slalom, won by
Sweden's Markus Larsson. Miller had already clinched the $33,000
Dolomiti Super Trophy awarded to the weekend's overall winner.

Miller looked out of control right at the start of the first run
and skied off the course after about 10 gates. He gathered himself
and started again, only to fall a few gates later.

"I'm OK," Miller said. "I just got stuck on my tails a little
bit."

Larsson, who was seventh after the opening run, covered the Gran
Risa course in a combined time of 1 minute, 44.51 seconds for the
second victory of his career.

Ligety, the Olympic combined champion, was 0.19 seconds behind,
and Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was third, 0.48 back.

"My slalom has been such a struggle this year," said Ligety,
who failed to finish the first two slaloms this season. "It was
good to finally throw one down. I feel like I'm heading back in the
right direction."

American Jimmy Cochran turned in the second-fastest final run to
move up 14 places and finish 13th, his second top-15 of the winter.

"Ted was very solid today, a little disappointed he didn't
win," McNichol said. "He was going for the victory, as usual, but
that will come. And Jimmy had a great second run, which ought to
help boost his confidence."

After 12 races, three Americans are in the top seven in the
overall standings -- Miller is third, Ligety fifth and Nyman
seventh.

The American surge has coincided with an Austrian slump.

Austria's winless streak on the men's circuit has reached 11
races -- the longest since 1991-92. Skiing's "Wunderteam" hasn't
won since Benjamin Raich took the season opening slalom last month
in Levi, Finland.

No Austrians finished Monday's race for the first time since a
1986 slalom in Bromont, Canada.

Raich, the defending overall World Cup winner, is only ninth in
the current standings.

Miller, the 2004-05 overall winner, has struggled only in
slalom. He hasn't won a slalom since Dec. 13, 2004, in Sestriere,
Italy, and hasn't finished a race since January in Kitzbuehel,
Austria, placing 18th.

Miller is using new skis this season, and had a tough time with
the sticky conditions Monday.

"On really hard ice, they were great," he said. "But on this
grippier snow it was a little bit too much. We'll keep messing
around with it. The skis felt great. Look at the splits from the
first 10 gates and I bet I was pretty fast."

Ligety thinks it only a matter of time before Miller wins a
slalom race.

"His training actually has been fast," Ligety said. "He's
starting to figure out his equipment better. I'm guessing he'll
probably win a slalom this year. People might laugh at that, but
he's always capable."

The men's circuit moves to Hinterstoder, Austria, for a super-G
and giant slalom Wednesday and Thursday.