Skiing: Raich closes on Miller after combined victory

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The Independent Online

Austrian Benjamin Raich won a trial super-combined race Friday to significantly close the gap on overall World Cup leader Bode Miller. Raich posted the fastest time in the opening slalom portion and held on to his lead after the afternoon downhill, finishing in an aggregate time of 2 minutes, 28.37 seconds and gaining 100 points over the American, who went out in the slalom leg.

Austrian Benjamin Raich won a trial super-combined race Friday to significantly close the gap on overall World Cup leader Bode Miller. Raich posted the fastest time in the opening slalom portion and held on to his lead after the afternoon downhill, finishing in an aggregate time of 2 minutes, 28.37 seconds and gaining 100 points over the American, who went out in the slalom leg.

The Austrian is now just 198 points behind Miller, who leads the overall standings with 988.

"The fact that I'm less than 200 points behind Bode doesn't mean it's easier for me now," said Raich, a technical specialist who only seriously began competing the speed events last season. "Potentially Bode can win in every race. But it doesn't matter. I won't give up and I'll fight until the end."

Norwegian veteran Lasse Kjus, who won the traditional combined here in 1999, finished second, .32 seconds behind.

Kjus, a combined specialist who has won gold in the event at both the world championships and Olympics, praised the combined's revamped format.

The new event is composed of a downhill run and a slalom leg staged only a few hours apart on the same day. The traditional combined event added the times from the weekend's downhill to those of the weekend's slalom, as will be the case in Kitzbuehel next week.

"This new super-combi format is the only way to go," said Kjus, who arrived in the finish area to the sound of thousands of fans singing "Happy Birthday" in honor of his 34th. "I think it makes things more fair. Only one leg for the slalom skiers because it is so difficult for downhillers to make two good slalom runs. And a shorter downhill that makes it possible for the slalom skiers to complete OK."

Swiss Didier Defago finished third, 1.40 back, while another Norwegian, Kjetil Andre Aamodt, was fifth in 2:30.19.

Miller, one of the favorites entering the redesigned competition, straddled a double gate midway down his slalom run but continued on, apparently unaware of his mistake. He was later disqualified.

The American has only finished one slalom this season, the night race he won in Sestriere, Italy, in December.

"I'm bummed," Miller said. "I was taking it really cautious, I just wanted to make it to the finish. But then I saw the star next to my name and I was wondering what that was about.

"People said I straddled so I went to watch the video and sure enough I had. I usually say that an athlete knows when he straddles. But if they hadn't told me, I wouldn't have known."

Reigning World Cup overall champion Hermann Maier of Austria, looking unfamiliar in a pom pom tuque, was 15th after the slalom, then switched to his trademark yellow helmet for the downhill run and climbed to ninth in 2:31.65.

"My slalom skis felt like ice skates," Maier said. "I realized it wasn't going to be a podium performance today."

Though ineligible for the downhill leg of the super-combi, Miller sent a clear warning to his downhill rivals, posting the fastest time in a training session that was arranged last minute.

The International Ski Federation announced late Thursday evening that an extra practice would be arranged for all skiers who did not compete in the combined downhill leg. Several skiers were absent, having made other plans, and the results did not count for starting numbers on race day.

Daron Rahlves will not be among Miller's challengers. The American withdrew, still in pain following his spectacular crash in Tuesday's giant slalom in Adelboden.

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