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Austria signs off with Pranger gold

MANFRED Pranger earned Austria's men's team its only gold medal at the world championships in Val d'Isere, France, by winning the closing slalom yesterday.

Pranger clocked a combined winning time of one minute 44.17 seconds down the steep, icy Bellevarde piste to save his ski-mad nation from the embarrassment of leaving the worlds without a men's title for the first time since 1997.

The 31-year-old, who posted his first World Cup win in nearly four years in a slalom in Wengen, Switzerland, last month, set the fastest time in the first run and held his nerve in the second to present Austria with its third successive world slalom title.

"I'd been dreaming about this for so long," said Pranger, who became a father two weeks ago.

Silver medal

"After all I've been through, this is fantastic," added the Austrian, whose career has been constantly hampered by injuries over the past four years. "First a son and now this. Life couldn't be better."

France's Julien Lizeroux thrilled the 30,000 crowd attending the final event of the fortnight at the French Alps resort by finishing 0.31 seconds back to win his second silver medal of the championships after one in the super combined.

"Two silvers is great but I can't help feeling a bit disappointed," said Lizeroux, who posted his first World Cup win in a slalom in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month.

"Becoming a world champion at home would have been so special."

Michael Janyk was a surprise bronze medalist, 1.53 seconds behind the winner, giving Canada more to celebrate a year before the Winter Olympics in Vancouver after John Kucera's shock victory in the blue-riband downhill.

"This is just great with Vancouver coming," Janyk said after becoming Canada's first slalom medalist at the world championships.

The treacherous, rock-hard course ruined the hopes of several favorites, among them Italy's Giorgio Rocca and defending world champion Mario Matt, Austrian Reinfried Herbst and American Bode Miller, who all skied out in the first run.

Olympic champion Benjamin Raich of Austria and slalom World Cup leader Jean-Baptiste Grange of France suffered the same fate in the second run.

"It's a very tricky course," Pranger said. "I'm not surprised so many went out."

Olympic silver medalist Herbst was a strong pre-race favorite but he quickly exited after his inside ski went from under him jumping into a left-hand turn.

Miller was looking to make history as the first man to win career gold medals in all five events at the worlds, but never seemed comfortable and almost fell before failing to make a right-hand turn before halfway. "I was pretty psyched. Right out of the start I go to the first gate and I can't get a grip, then there's nothing for me to do," he said.

The American star, who failed to win a medal for the third straight major championships, was unhappy that the surface was altered after the women's slalom.

Another American Jimmy Cochran produced the fastest run of the afternoon, clocking 50.85 seconds to move up from 22nd to 10th place.

Switzerland topped the final table with six medals, followed by Austria with five and the US with three.


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