Skiing: Paerson shows risk-taking style in giant step to top of rankings

Anja Paerson, the defending champion, took the lead in the World Cup overall standings for the first time this season after winning yesterday's giant slalom here.

The Swede recorded the fastest time in the opening run and then defended her position to win in a two-run combined time of 2min 9.94sec for her third World Cup victory of the season, her first in the giant slalom. She also won two slaloms - in Aspen, Colorado, and in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic - before the holiday break.

"I had a really bad start in the super-G and downhill and I didn't expect to be up there," said Paerson, after collecting her 29th career World Cup win. "The Olympics are really what I'm counting on. Of course, I notice when I'm wearing the red bib in the start, but it's nothing I'm focusing on right now.

"I'm glad to be back to being my old self, where I'm risking it all. I'm making a lot of mistakes, but still doing well overall."

Nicole Hosp, of Austria, finished in second place, 0.21sec behind Paerson, with the Slovenian Tina Maze third, 0.40sec adrift of Paerson.

Hosp was fourth after the opening leg, but she finished on the podium for the first time this season after producing the fastest final run.

The Austrian is still seeking her first win in two years. Her last was in a giant slalom here in Lienz, on 27 December 2003. Hosp broke an ankle jogging a month later which kept her out of the action for the rest of that season. She only returned to competition in late January 2005.

"I'm very happy to make this result. I had two good runs," Hosp said. "But I've had good results here in the past, so I came here full of confidence."

Maze, who triumphed in the season-opening giant slalom in Sölden, Austria, had failed to regain the podium since then. "I'm satisfied. Obviously, Austria's my lucky place," said Maze, who was voted sportswoman of the year in Slovenia by journalists on 22 December.

"I didn't do so good in America and Spindleruv Mlyn. So this is kind of nice to be back. When I saw the conditions for the second run I was thinking very bad thoughts because I prefer skiing in sunshine," Maze added. "I was surprised and very happy to take third."

Paerson moves past the previous leader, Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria, and her arch rival, Janica Kostelic of Croatia, to take the World Cup overall leader's red jersey. The Swede leads with 540 points. Kostelic is second on 532. Dorfmeister is third with 510.

"They told me that I had gone top as I left the finish area, but it's not something I'm spending much time thinking about right now," Paerson said.

"It's something I'll focus on if I'm still able to win when it comes to the finals in Sweden in March, but right now I just want to ski fast and get as much practice in as possible before the Winter Olympics."

Dorfmeister lost the lead after finishing 23rd on Wednesday, while Kostelic struggled with the flat light and the course to finish sixth.

Paerson defeated Kostelic in the chase for the overall title by only three points last season.

"You can't be a winner every time," Kostelic said. "This hill isn't suited to me because it's so flat, and I had trouble with the light. So my main goal after I was sixth in the first run was to defend that position and I'm pretty satisfied that I did that. I wanted to make sure to catch 30 or 40 points."

Paerson - who leads the slalom rankings - also replaced Kostelic as giant slalom leaderon 285 points. Kostelic is second with 270, and Austria's Kathrin Zettel is third with 240.