Austria's Matt captures men's slalom gold at worlds
ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) -- Mario Matt surged ahead in the second run to win the gold medal in the men's slalom ahead of Austrian teammate Benjamin Raich in the final race of the world championship Saturday.
Mitja Kunc of Slovenia clinched the bronze with a blistering second run to prevent an Austrian medal sweep. The two nations shared the top six places.
Matt, who trailed Raich by .04 seconds after the first run, made up the difference with a nearly perfect second run on the Fang course to win in an aggregate time of one minute, 39.66 seconds for the two heats.
"Unbelievable. It was a huge dream come true," said Matt, who had won one slalom this year and who had two World Cup victories last season. He also won silver in the combined here.
"I wanted to race with as much risk as possible," he said.
"There was a brutally difficult part in the middle. My run was not exactly mistake-free, but it wasn't that bad either. It's marvelous to be the world champion," Matt said. Raich, winner of the last three World Cup slalom races, made one big mistake, nearly skidding off the course, and had to settle for silver in 1:39.81.
"I wanted the gold, that is logical, but I made a pretty big mistake and I'm thankful that it turned out the way it did," Raich said. "After my mistake, I took risks and I was able to make up some time but it wasn't enough."
"I tried everything and it just didn't work, but we have a worthy world champion."
Raich, 22, and Matt, 21, are considered the "young wolves" on the Austrian team.
Kunc put in the fastest second run to vault from seventh and earn the bronze in 1:40.36.
"I skied pretty well in the second run and I'm happy with the bronze. I didn't think I could take a medal. I just wanted to concentrate on the run and I knew I could ski fast."
Heinz Schilchegger, another Austrian, had been third after the first run and could have given the home team a rare sweep but could not beat the Slovene's time and finished fourth.
Rene Mlekuz of Slovenia was fifth, Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria sixth and Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway, who had been seeking his third medal of the championship, finished seventh.
Jure Kosir of Slovenia was eighth. Taking advantage of a course set by their coach, the Slovenes had the three fastest times in the second run.
Olympic gold medalist Hans-Petter Buraas of Norway and defending champion Kalle Palander of Finland both failed to finish the first run.
The slalom course had to be moved to the bottom of the downhill course after mild weather ruined the original piste.
Among the 50,000 spectators were Russian President Vladimir Putin, a keen skier, and his Austrian host Thomas Klestil.
They congratulated the winners at the medal ceremony.
By collecting two more medals on the final day, the Austrians finished with a championship-high 11, including three golds, also more than any other nation. Their total was four fewer than two years ago in Vail, Colorado, where they had five golds.
On Friday, Sonja Nef got the gold medal that should have been hers five years ago when she won the giant slalom title.
It was vindication for years of injuries and frustration that have plagued Nef's career.
Five years ago, at the world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, Nef led by a big margin after the first run, only to fall heavily in the second and get injured.
"I prayed in the lift going up that nothing happens again like it did five years ago, when I was so close," Nef said.
Nef mastered difficult, slushy conditions and took the gold in a combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 19.01 seconds, a whopping 1.10 seconds ahead of Karen Putzer of Italy. Putzer won her second medal after taking the bronze in the combined.
Anja Paerson, Sweden's rising 19-year-old star who won the slalom gold, took the bronze this time, 1.51 seconds off the pace.
"This is one of my happiest days," Nef said. "I really wished that I could be the world champion.
"I knew the course was very rough. The delay of the second run made me very nervous," said Nef, who already had clinched this season's giant slalom World Cup title after winning five of seven races.
The second run was delayed nearly an hour to fix the course.