Mario Matt Wins World Cup Race

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) _ An Austrian victory in the men's slalom was no surprise. A second-place finish by a U.S. skier was a stunner.

Mario Matt of Austria, the reigning world champion, earned the victory Monday on Aspen Mountain, but Bode Miller pulled off the biggest surprise by finishing second, the best result by the United States in a World Cup men's slalom since 1988.

Miller, known for a reckless style that often ends in crashes, had not scored a World Cup point in the slalom since 1999, when he finished fourth twice.

Matt, with his fourth World Cup slalom victory, won in 1 minute, 39.08 seconds. He was third Sunday in the first of the two slalom races at Aspen, the only World Cup men's stop in the United States this season.

``Today I was able to adjust and be much straighter in my line and much faster,'' Matt said. ``I knew I could be better than yesterday.''

Downhill and super G races scheduled this weekend at Beaver Creek were canceled because of a lack of snow and warm weather during course preparation last week.

With a combined time of 1:39.69, Miller seemed headed for the first U.S. men's slalom victory in the World Cup since 1983 until Matt, the next-to-last skier in the field, came down the hill. Jean-Pierre Vidal of France was third in 1:40.06.

No U.S. skier has finished this high since Felix McGrath was second to Alberto Tomba at Are, Sweden, on March 20, 1988. No American has had a podium finish _ top three _ since then. The last U.S. winner in the men's slalom was Steve Mahre on Feb. 6, 1983, at St. Anton, Austria.

``We're on the way up. We have a young team that's growing,'' Miller said. ``We've been in a bit of a trough for a while, but we have a team now that's strong enough to really compete for medals in any event, on any course, in any conditions. I think what you saw today is just a glimpse of it.''

Miller's performance enhanced his status as a medal hopeful for the Salt Lake City Olympics. He was third in a World Cup giant slalom last season in Val d'Isare, France. He crashed twice last week in the Alpine Cup NorAm slalom races at the Loveland Ski Area, near Georgetown, Colo., then crashed again in his second run in Sunday's World Cup race.

Considered stubborn and reluctant to tone down his attacking style, Miller did just that in the latter stages of his second run on Monday.

``I had to make a choice there,'' he said. ``I could have probably pushed the limit more and maybe won or maybe blown out. The decision I made I felt really confident about, just to back off a little bit and try to not make any mistakes. That was probably the best way for me to ski that course.''

U.S. men's slalom coach Jesse Hunt said Miller showed what he can do when he uses the correct strategy.

``He's definitely maturing,'' Hunt said. ``For me, he's just skiing the proper tactics, not holding back. He needs to learn to ski that way more often.''

Miller started 54th in Monday's opening run. The 24-year-old skier from Franconia, N.H., improved to 16th after the first run.

But he had the fastest time of all competitors in the second run _ 50.93 seconds _ a smooth performance in stark contrast to his nearly out-of-control effort on Sunday.

Miller's finish more than salvaged an otherwise difficult day for the United States. Tom Rothrock of Cashmere, Wash., in his third World Cup start, was a surprising eighth after the first run but crashed midway down the course on the second run.

Erik Schlopy of Park City, Utah, was 32nd, two places shy of qualifying for the second run. Chip Knight of Stowe, Vt., was 36th and Sacha Gros of Vail, Colo., 46th. Casey Puckett of Aspen didn't finish the first run.

Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, the brother of women's skiing great Janica Kostelic, finished fifth after earning his first World Cup victory on Sunday.

Vidal scored his first career World Cup points with a 12th-place finish on Sunday. Two years ago, Vidal injured both knees in training and underwent surgery and spent a month in a wheel chair wondering if he would ever ski again. He came back to win the national titles in the slalom and giant slalom last March.

Alain Baxter of Britain failed to reach the second round of a World Cup slalom for the first time since 1999. He was 33rd in the first run.