Austria’s Matt wins super-combi on messy course

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WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) – Austria’s Mario Matt won a World Cup super-combi Sunday on a sloppy course that wiped out Bode Miller and left some skiers grumbling that the race wasn’t fair.

Matt rallied in the slalom, taking advantage of starting first on a slope that got worse with each competitor. He was 34th after the downhill but regrouped for his first World Cup victory in almost two years.

Matt finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 27.87 seconds. Last season, he struggled after switching from slalom specialist to all-around skier.

“This means a lot to me. I’m elated,” he said. “Last year was very hard for me. It was a big change for me and I also had problems with my slalom equipment. It was not a good year.”

Marc Berthod, the surprise slalom winner in nearby Adelboden last week, was second in 2:28.25. Swiss teammate Silvan Zurbriggen was third in 2:28.28. Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic, winner of the last super-combi at Reiteralm, Austria, was fourth in 2:28.48.

Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety of the United States finished 10th. Peter Fill of Italy, who had the fastest downhill time, finished 21st.

“Nobody had a chance after Matt,” Ligety said. “It’s not fair to the athletes, but it’s not fair to the spectators, either. This is not good ski racing when nobody has a chance after the first guy. It’s very frustrating. It’s not fun to race when it’s way too soft.”

Miller, who won the famed Lauberhorn downhill Saturday, has yet to complete either a slalom or combined event this season.

He was second fastest in the downhill but straddled a gate in the slalom on a course mangled by rain and temperatures in the 50s. Brown soil could be seen through a thin layer of deteriorating snow.

“I think Bode might have been adapting his skiing to the conditions,” U.S. men’s coach Phil McNichol said. “He still should have been able to finish, though, at least fifth. Still, I don’t like to see a race like this because it wasn’t about the fastest guy, but about starting positions and happenstance. The conditions were horrific.”

International Ski Federation official Mike Kertesz said he received complaints after the race. He acknowledged later starters in the slalom were at a serious disadvantage.

“Of course, the conditions weren’t in their favor at the time they started,” Kertesz told The Associated Press. “Obviously they needed one heck of a run to make it in there.”

“The ones who didn’t win complained,” he added. “Like any race where the conditions were difficult, they blamed the conditions. We did our best to make a professional race with what we had. Some racers are going to be happy, others aren’t.”

McNichol questioned whether the race should have taken place but understands the need to run as many races as possible because of warm weather across Europe disrupting the World Cup calendar.

“We’re held hostage to Mother Nature,” he said. “FIS through its actions this season have made it clear they want the safest conditions they can have, but they also want to produce the race at all costs. Fairness is not going to dictate a decision this season.”

The super-combi initially was scheduled for Friday, but was postponed because of warm weather and rain. It replaced a slalom that was slated for Sunday. That slalom will be picked up later in the season.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who was eighth, remained atop the World Cup overall standings with 703 points after 20 races. Didier Cuche of Switzerland is second with 651 points, while Miller is third with 640.

Berthod took the lead in the World Cup combined standings from Svindal and leads with 173 points, one more than Svindal.

Matt was 34th fastest on the morning downhill leg on the Lauberhorn course. Four racers ahead of him withdrew before the slalom, including Austrian teammates Hermann Maier and Georg Streitberger, boosting Matt into 30th position.

Because the top 30 in the downhill ski the slalom in reverse starting order, Matt was first out of the starting gate on the Jungfrau course.

“It was definitely an advantage for me to start first in the slalom. I knew if I could do a good slalom, I could finish in the top five or even make a podium,” Matt said. “But still, in Wengen the downhill is very long and as a slalom skier you need to show guts to ski the tough sections and you have to take a lot of risks.”

AP-ES-01-14-07 1456EST

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