Skiing : Surprise success for Skaardal

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Atle Skaardal, a surprise winner of the super-giant slalom at last year's World Championships, retained his title here yesterday, but again his success was unexpected.

"If this is true, if it's not a dream, I don't think I'll survive today. It's crazy," said Skaardal, who has not won a World Cup race all season but has twice been second in downhills.

Yesterday Skaardal, who made his World Championship debut in Bormio in 1985, sped down the Italian piste in 1min 29.68sec to beat his compatriot Lasse Kjus, the overall World Cup holder, who has been unfit for much of this World Cup because of flu. He clocked 1:29.89, edging out the Austrian veteran Gunther Mader. Hans Knauss, Austria's young hope, who won a super- G in Val d'Isere in December, missed a medal by 0.06sec.

Skaardal, starting fifth in bright sunshine on the Kandahar-Banchetta piste that last hosted a major race in 1989 when Luxembourg's Marc Girardelli suffered a serious accident, almost paid for taking an aggressive line, nearly falling on the upper part of the course.

Kjus, the seventh starter, was quickest through two intermediates before slowing slightly. He was almost as stunned as Skaardal to win a medal but he said his form and confidence had been improving since his return to the circuit on 14 January.

Mader, who was second in one of only two super-Gs raced this season, completed a trio of surprised medallists with his first super-G medal. It was the sixth bronze, to add to one silver, that he has accumulated during his world and Olympic career.

There was disappointment for the French, Italians and Swiss who had high hopes of a medal. France's Luc Alphand, who won the super-G in Laax last week, was left out of the top 10 and said he had a bad cold.

Britain's Graham Bell made a number of mistakes and finished 41st, three places behind the championship debutant, Andrew Freshwater.