Tue, Jan 25, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Pranger achieves slalom victory on Hahnenkamm Mt.

AP , KITZBUEHEL, AUSTRIA

Once best-known for his teeth gnashing and growls in the start hut, Manfred Pranger will now be famous for posting his maiden World Cup slalom victory on the notorious Hahnenkamm mountain.

Pranger covered the steep, unpredictable Ganslern course in a two-run aggregate time of 1 minute, 31.51 seconds Sunday, then cried on the podium in front of 20,000 spectators, including his blue-capped fan club, who recited a slow, solemn song of pride for him.

"I was in the military six years ago and every Monday I would watch the Austrian flag being raised," said Pranger, whose last podium result was a second place in Flachau a year ago. "And I'd always dream that maybe one day that would happen for me at a ski race."

Pranger posted the fastest time in the opening leg at four previous slaloms, but each time failed to maintain his lead for the win. He led by nearly half a second after Sunday's first run.

"Between the runs today, I started to doubt myself," said Pranger, who struggled with lower back pain and confidence this season before a fourth-place finish in Wengen last week. "That's why it was especially fabulous when I finally crossed the finish line first."

Oddly, a lack of self-confidence never appeared to be a problem for Pranger, who has long ignored the smiles, smirks and raised eyebrows provoked by his unconventional motivational grimaces in the start hut.

"I'm totally concentrated in the start," Pranger said.

Teammate Benjamin Raich finished eighth and continued to close on overall leader Bode Miller, who failed to qualify for the second leg.

Miller lost his balance a few gates from the bottom and finished the gates from the reverse direction, leaving him 2.11 seconds off the pace.

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