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Cuche scales the age summit at ski worlds

DIDIER Cuche of Switzerland won the men's super-G at the world championships yesterday for his first career gold medal at the age of 34.

Cuche, who had not won a race this season, skied the treacherous Face de Bellevarde in Val d'Isere, France, in 1 minute, 19.41 seconds. Peter Fill of Italy finished second, 0.99 behind, and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was third, 1.02 back.

Cuche celebrated after crossing the finish line with his trademark ski flip, kicking his right ski end over and through the air before catching it upright with his right hand.

His previous best result at a major championship came at his first - a silver medal in the super-G at the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan. Until yesterday, he had added only a bronze medal in giant slalom at the 2007 worlds held at Are, Sweden.

"I was happy to be third in Are," Cuche said. "Now to do it in super-G, one of my disciplines, is like a dream."

Cuche, the two-time defending World Cup downhill champion, has been sensitive to suggestions he could not produce his best form on the big occasion.

He also had to watch less-heralded teammate Didier Defago win the classic downhills at Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month and threaten his status as Switzerland's top speed racer. Defago was eighth yesterday, 1.69 behind Cuche.

"He (Cuche) was a level better than us, maybe two levels," fourth-place Christof Innerhofer of Italy said.

Defending world super-G champion Patrick Staudacher of Italy trailed by 2.61.

On a bright sunny day, the men enjoyed better visibility for racing than the women had to cope with on Tuesday in their super-G, which was won by Lindsey Vonn of the United States.

The Bellevarde hill is bathed in brighter light than the Solaise slope, which faces opposite and runs down to a shared finish area. The Solaise will stage the women's speed events in the first week of the championships and has a middle section running through a forest.

Spectacular crashes

There were a few spectacular crashes yesterday, including one suffered by American Ted Ligety, who escaped unhurt after losing his balance coming out of a turn and sliding down the track on his back to land in the safety netting.

Several favorites struggled, among them American daredevil Bode Miller and Austria's Hermann Maier, arguably the greatest super-G skier of all time. Both finished outside the top-10.

The 26-year-old Fill, who posted his first World Cup win in a downhill in Lake Louise in November, enjoyed the tough venue.

"This is different from what we're used to but it was exciting," he said.

"Getting silver behind Cuche, who was unbeatable today, is great. I couldn't have dreamed of a better way to start the championships."

Svindal, back to his best after a horror crash in December 2007, said Cuche skied solidly on the icy track, which dropped 650 meters during the 1,770-meter super-G course.

"It's difficult, but we're supposed to be the best in the world so we should be able to see it," the Norwegian said.

Benjamin Raich of Austria, who placed fifth, said the piste was difficult to master.

"It's steep, it's icy, it's bumpy," Raich said. "You have to stay clean. I made a big mistake in the middle which I think cost me a silver medal."

Miller trailed by 2.43, losing time at a left-hand turn when he hit the snow with his hip and put a hand down to correct himself. The defending overall World Cup champion was not impressed with the technical course. "I don't like it when the world championship is decided by defensive skiing," Miller, 31, said. "I like to go all out."


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