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Miller Set Back in World Cup Title Bid

SHIGAKOGEN, Japan MARCH 8, 2003 (AP by Jim Armstrong)--History was made Saturday in the men's World Cup slalom race. Unfortunately for American Bode Miller, he had nothing to do with it.

Finland's Kalle Palander and Austria's Rainer Schoenfelder finished in a dead heat to share first place in the event, the first time a men's World Cup slalom race ended in a tie.

Meanwhile, Miller crashed out on his first run, seriously damaging his bid to capture the overall World Cup title.

As for Palander and Schoenfelder, both finished in a combined 1 minute, 41.14 seconds.

"It's something new," Palander said. "But it doesn't bother me at all. I know I'm happy and I'm sure Rainer is too."

Palander, second behind Schoenfelder after the first run, posted a time of 49.97 seconds in his second heat, giving him his fourth straight World Cup slalom victory this season.

With Palander leading after his second run, Schoenfelder posted a time of 50.05 to pull even.

The victory moved Palander into first place in the overall slalom standings, 34 points ahead of Croatia's Ivica Kostelic. Palander finished 28th overall in last year's World Cup standings.

"It's great to win the fourth title," Palander said. "The hill was in good condition, but the visibility was bad because of the snow, so it's amazing they were able to maintain the course so well."

Italy's Giorgio Rocca was third Saturday in 1:41.58.

Kostelic finished fourth with a time of 1:42.25, while Japan's Akira Sasaki gave the host nation a boost with a sixth-place finish.

Schoenfelder came off a poor result in the last slalom.

"My condition wasn't that good today," Schoenfelder said. "But the result was great. I was 13th in Korea and first here, so I like skiing in Japan."

Palander won two men's slalom events in the Austrian cities of Kitzbuehel and Schladming in January, and also won last week in Yongpyong, South Korea.

"When I came to Korea, I was 100 points behind Kostelic," Palander said. "But I wasn't thinking too much about the standings and then winning in Korea changed everything."

The 25-year-old Miller arrived at the Shigakogen ski resort poised to make up some valuable ground in the overall World Cup standings, but it didn't happen.

Friday's giant slalom was called off because of poor weather, and Miller stumbled Saturday. He lost his balance at the 15th gate and didn't finish the race.

Miller trails Austria's Stephan Eberharter by 93 points in the overall standings, but failed to close the gap in Japan. Miller, who is second in the giant slalom standings, has struggled in the slalom this season.

He finished on the podium only once in the slalom, a second place in Bormio. Other than that, he crashed or went off-course four times, and twice finished out of the top 10.

Eberharter did not take part in Saturday's slalom and heads to Norway, where he'll compete in the speed events, his strongest disciplines.

Friday's giant slalom was canceled due to poor weather and visibility was not good for Saturday's slalom, which was delayed by one hour.

Shigakogen is the second-to-last event of the 2002-2003 World Cup circuit. The final is scheduled for March 12-16 in Lillehammer, Norway, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics.

"Lillehammer will be tough," Palander said. "I'm sure Kostelic will train very hard but I'll try my best to win and if I do everything will be perfect."

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press

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