Are, Sweden Feb. 17 (AP by Stephan Nasstrom)--After finishing second, third and fourth in giant slalom races here since 1997, Switzerland's Sonja Nef finally struck gold in a World Cup under the lights Thursday night.
Nef, who led after the first run, capitalized on mishaps by her two closest rivals and won by a relatively easy 1.01 seconds ahead of Austrian veteran Anita Wachter.
``I was making jokes with my coach yesterday about my series of strong results here and I said, `Why not winning the race today,''' Nef said. ``When I got up this morning I felt very relaxed, really motivated and I had a good feeling in training. I was really ready to go for it.''
Nef had a two-run time of 2 minutes, 27.79 seconds down the 1,185-meter Gastrappet course. It was her third World Cup victory and second this season. She also won the season-opening GS at Tignes, France.
Third went to Brigitte Obermoser, another Austrian, in 2:29.87. It was her first podium finish.
``The downhill and the super-G are my best events, so I was surprised that I would make my first podium finish in the GS,'' Obermoser said. ``I like to ski at night. The visibility is very good, sometimes better than during day racing. You can see everything at night.''
Nef also enjoys night racing. Her first World Cup victory, a slalom, came under the lights at Sestriere, Italy, in 1996.
Birgit Heeb of Liechtenstein was fourth in 2:30.09 and Sweden's Anna Ottosson, who won a GS at Cortina, Italy, three weeks ago, delighted the home fans by placing fifth in 2:30.69.
Renate Goetschl, needing to finish at least seventh to take the World Cup overall lead, placed sixth in 2:30.70. She passed fellow Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister, who slid off the course in the first run and was disqualified.
Silke Bachmann, a promising Italian GS racer who broke through this season, was second after the opening run. Trailing Nef by half a second, Bachmann made a costly mistake on the upper part of the course and dropped back to eighth.
Andrine Flemmen of Norway, who finished third in the first run, skied out and was disqualified.
Kristina Koznik of Burnsville, Minn., who won her first career World Cup race in a night slalom here in 1998, placed 13th for the top finish by the three Americans who qualified for the second run. Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was 15th and Sarah Schleper of Vail, Colo.,was 17th.
Ingemar Stenmark, the greatest slalom and giant slalom racer ever, made a rare appearance at a women's World Cup ski meet Thursday.
``I haven't been here since I retired,'' said Stenmark, who left the sport in 1989.
The Swede, whose 86 World Cup victories puts him far ahead of second-place Italian Alberto Tomba's 50 wins, skied his last race here in 1988.
Many of the young fans were not even born then, but scores of fans surrounded him at the finish area after the first run.
``I have hardly had time watching the competition,'' Stenmark said. ``I've been signing so many autoraphs.''
Stenmark won 46 giant slalom and 40 slaloms during his unmatched career.
The meet continues with a sprint downhill on Saturday on the adjacent Olympia course, designed by former Swiss downhill great Bernhard Russi. The final event, a slalom, will be held Sunday. Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press