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Austria’s day as Fenninger wins overall World Cup

March 13, 2014

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP) — On a great day for ski-crazy Austria, Anna Fenninger won her first overall Alpine World Cup title and Marcel Hirscher took a huge step toward his third.

Fenninger’s breakout success was expected on Thursday, though Hirscher surprised himself on super-G day at the World Cup Finals by beating the master of the discipline, Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.

Austria can complete its first title double since 2002 when the season-ending slalom and giant slalom — Hirscher’s strongest events — are raced this weekend.

That leaves the nation time to savor Fenninger’s success, after her second-place finish behind super-G winner Lara Gut built an unassailable points lead over her Swiss friend.

“It’s just, wow,” said Fenninger, the first Austrian woman to win the overall title since Nicole Hosp in 2007. “It means that you are the best skier in the world over the whole season.”

Four weeks after winning Olympic gold in super-G, and silver in giant slalom, Fenninger carried her momentum from Sochi into a surge of World Cup points.

Her path to the sport’s most prestigious prize was certainly made easier when closest challenger, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, sustained season-ending injuries after crashing in the downhill on Wednesday.

Still, Fenninger’s consistency over a tiring five-month season earned her the honor of becoming the 27th different women’s champion since the World Cup launched in 1967.

“You can’t win the overall because you are lucky,” Gut said. “You win the overall because you are the best.”

Fenninger’s only slip since Sochi was a sixth in the final downhill, racing minutes before Hoefl-Riesch crashed.

“I was so nervous yesterday it was not normal,” Fenninger said. “But I learned from yesterday for today and I’m stoked that I can show my good skiing again.”

Starting just before Gut on Thursday, she punched the air with her right fist after crossing the line, then blew a kiss to the television camera while waiting for her rival in the finish area.

Gut then finished in 1 minute, 17.14 seconds, 0.61 faster on the sunbathed course. Tina Maze of Slovenia, the defending overall champion, trailed Gut by 0.95 in third.

Gut’s victory, her second straight after the downhill, clinched the season-long super-G title and a first career World Cup trophy for the 22-year-old racer.

At an awards ceremony after the races, Gut was joined by Svindal, who collected two crystal trophies: His second season-long downhill title and a fifth in super-G.

It was a rare bright spot in the sunshine for the genial Norwegian, who smiled when choosing an expletive to describe his day.

Svindal was relying on big points in super-G to fuel his title duel with Hirscher, who was pushed into a rare start in a speed event.

Instead, Hirscher placed 12th and Svindal failed to score in 16th. A points lead predicted to reach three figures for Svindal slumped to just 19 over the two-time defending champion, with a maximum 200 on offer this weekend.

“It’s over in the sense that up until today I could win it,” said Svindal, another two-time champion who bowed his head toward his skis when seeing his time in the finish area. “And now he can only lose it.”

Hirscher was hugged by teammates when Svindal crossed the line.

“I’m nearly shocked. Me before Aksel, Aksel no points. That is crazy,” said Hirscher.

In a race of surprises, Alexis Pinturault’s winning run of 1:13.71 as the last racer denied his unheralded French teammate Thomas Mermillod Blondin an even more stunning win by 0.56.

Bode Miller of the United States was a further one-hundredth back in third, repeating his Olympic bronze-medal placing in super-G.

“It was kind of a weird result,” said Miller, who led at the last time split. “I probably had two and a half seconds, three seconds, worth of mistakes in my run. I felt good about battling through it.”

The season for Miller — and Svindal — ends on Saturday with the GS in which Hirscher also looks to fend off American Ted Ligety’s challenge for the discipline title. The slalom is on Sunday.

“I have to ski brilliant in the next two races,” Hirscher promised, “otherwise I can make mistakes as well.”

Judged by its nine-medal Olympic tally, this Austrian team does not seem to do mistakes.

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