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Strobl Surprises By Winning Giant Slalom

November 25, 1996

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ Josef Strobl’s chest swelled and a smile crossed his face as he announced, in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, ``I’m back. I’m back.″

Strobl was back atop the victory podium on Monday after a surprising victory in a men’s World Cup giant slalom. It had been two years since Strobl’s last victory _ at Val d’Isere, France, in his specialty, downhill.

Until Monday, Strobl had only one top 10 finish in giant slalom but that was more a matter of the makeup of the Austrian team than any shortcoming by the 22-year-old racer.

``In my first season (1995), I won a downhill, and as a member of the downhill team you train only downhill,″ Strobl said. ``Then last year, I joined the giant slalom team as well and I spent the summer doing a lot of giant slalom training.″

Strobl proved he was more than a downhiller by beating fellow Austrian Hans Knaus and Swiss star Michael Von Gruenigen. Strobl, the surprise leader by .52 seconds in the morning run despite starting 20th, showed it was no fluke by completing two runs in a combined 2 minutes, 31.42 seconds. He beat Knaus, a GS specialist, by .42 seconds and Von Gruenigen, the defending World Cup GS champion, by .48.

Strobl got a break in the morning run down C.B’s Run when a steady snow slacked off long enough to benefit racers starting in the second group. Strobl made the most of the opportunity by unseating Von Gruenigen from the lead, but other late starters like Patrick Holzer of Italy and Hermann Maier of Germany also got a big boost.

``On the first run, I had better conditions than the guys from the first group, and that made a bit of a difference,″ Strobl said. ``In the second run, I’m not faster than them, but I was skiing very well, too.

``On the flats I thought I was OK, but in the steep I thought I was skiing a little too round on the course. But the coaches said the line was OK and the run was OK, so I can be satisfied.″

As a specialist in downhill and super-G, the sport’s speed events conducted in one run, Strobl had never before been in the situation of carrying a lead with another run to be made.

``But I stayed cool,″ he said. ``I was a little bit nervous at the start, but I thought if I want to reach my goal to be in the top 10 I just have to ski normal.″

Fredrik Nyberg of Sweden was fourth overall in 2:32.17, followed by Holzer in 2:32.54 and Maier in a tie for sixth with Switzerland’s Urs Kaelin at 2:32.60. Holzer started 27th and Maier 34th.

Rainer Salzgeber of Austria was eighth, 1.24 back of Strobl, followed by Ian Piccard of France and Steve Locher of Switzerland. Piccard was timed in 2:32.67 and Locher, winner of the season-opening GS at Solden, Austria, finished in 2:32.68.

Knaus, brother of pro ski champion Bernhard Knaus, has won two World Cup races _ a GS and a super-G _ and appeared for a time to be within reach of a third after a scorching afternoon run of 1:15.71. He was .46 faster than Strobl but had too much of a deficit to overcome. Strobl’s second run was 1:16.17, and Von Gruenigen, who earned five of his seven GS victories last season in dominating the discipline, was timed in 1:16.13.

``It was an almost perfect run. ... If I ski like this all winter, then I can finish in the top three in the giant slalom. That’s my dream,″ Knaus said.

``This is a good result for me,″ Von Gruenigen said, ``but I hope I can win one or two races this winter.″

Von Gruenigen refused to use the weather change as an excuse.

``It was not the best visibility in the top 10 numbers (he started No. 2), but the other guys, they come faster. They are also good skiers,″ he said.

``I had a good race, but the Austrians were faster than me,″ he added, ``but maybe next time it will be changed.″

Von Gruenigen took over the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 154 points to 136 for Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who was only 15th in 2:33.36. Knaus was third overall with 130 points and trailed Von Gruenigen 140-130 in the GS standings.

Lasse Kjus of Norway, last year’s overall champion, scored his first points in the season’s third event. After failing to finish the season-opening GS at Solden, Austria last month and the slalom on Sunday, he placed 18th on Monday to earn 13 points. He was 39th in the overall standings.

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