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Kucera stuns downhill field at worlds

JOHN Kucera of Canada won the men's downhill at the world championships yesterday only after Michael Walchhofer of Austria was allowed a second chance to race following a delay caused by fog.

The 24-year-old Kucera timed 2 minutes, 7.01 seconds down the steep and icy Face de Bellevarde course in Val d'Isere, France.

Didier Cuche of Switzerland - who won the super-G on Wednesday - finished second, 0.04 behind. Carlo Janka of Switzerland was third, 0.17 back.

Walchhofer, the 2003 winner, was mistakenly allowed to run from his scheduled No. 21 start despite race officials ordering a delay because of fog.

Walchhofer, who had completed his first run 1.84 behind Kucera, went back up the hill and raced again after all 38 starters had finished. He then placed ninth, 1.43 slower than the Canadian.

"It was a long wait!" Kucera said. "I was definitely nervous when Walchhofer came down the second time.

"It was the race of my life. To get my first downhill podium in a world championship is unbelievable."

Kucera had previously won a World Cup super-G race in Lake Louise, Canada, in November 2006, but had never placed better than seventh in a downhill - also at Lake Louise in November 2007.

Kucera was the second man to race and caught a lucky break with the weather, racing under clear skies and in good light after a forecast had predicted a blanket of cloud and poor visibility. However, patches of fog soon began rolling in.

"I had good conditions," said Cuche, who started No. 16. "I had one big mistake in the middle of my run. I was tired after a minute and a half."

Austrian Hermann Maier finished sixth after being first to run, paving the way for Kucera. "John skied almost the same line as me," he said. "Maybe that is why he won today. On top, the snow was pretty fast."

However, by the time Bode Miller went at No. 19, the American was shrouded in mist along the fastest sections in the top half of the course. Miller was followed in the worsening light by fellow former world champions Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Walchhofer.

None could come close to challenging Kucera's time. However, Walchhofer was granted his second chance after it emerged he was cleared to race in error.

Miller, who races independently of the official US Ski team, didn't protest to be allowed to race again.

"Team America does not file protests," Miller said. "I don't really care. I wouldn't want to run this thing again. It's just too demanding."

After a 15-minute wait at the starting gate, No. 22 Didier Defago was allowed to race in bright sunshine. But the widely fancied Swiss had trouble making a tight right-hand turn at halfway and lost control in trying to squeeze inside a gate. He crashed and slid face first into the fence but got up and seemed unhurt.

Christoph Gruber was fastest in Thursday's training run but crashed out before halfway. The Austrian, starting No. 5, lost his balance at a right-hand turn and was turned in mid-air to hit the safety fence back first. He appeared to be unhurt.

Two racers later, Canada's Jan Hudec also crashed out after his left outside ski fell away from him at a turn near the finish. He slid for 50 meters with his skis still attached before being stopped by the fences. He took some time to get up but skied down to the finish area.

Kucera's other Canadian teammates also failed to finish. Erik Guay fell near the same spot as Hudec and Manuel Osborne-Paradis skied out after missing a gate at halfway.


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