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Snowbasin, Utah Dec. 30, 2001 (AP)--Bode Miller, his spot in the Olympic Winter Games already assured by virtue of winning two World Cup races this season, earned a little bonus prize Sunday by winning the U.S. Ski Team Gold Cup slalom.

Miller, who was 0.07 seconds faster than Erik Schlopy in the first run, made that margin stand up by matching Schlopy's time for the second run.

``The finish pitch was really steep and there's no question that once over the break over there for about seven or eight gates it's a good pitch, but the top is really flat. That's where I won the race today because it's tough to make up time on that pitch.''

The Franconia, N.H., product was timed in 1 minute, 33.08 seconds for two runs down the Wildflower course, which was laid out on the bottom of what will be the women's downhill in the Winter Olympics.

``I came up with a plan to ski two solid runs,'' Miller said, ``and right now I'm skiing probably faster than anyone in the world and so if I can get to the finish I usually win.''

Schlopy, winner of Saturday's giant slalom, finished in 1:33.15 after a second-run time of 47.34 seconds, matching Miller for fastest of the session.

Winners of Gold Cup events are assured berths on the U.S. Olympic ski team, and Schlopy thus earned a bid by winning the GS. Miller, the first American since 1983 to win a World Cup slalom and giant slalom, had no worries about qualifying and used the GS to get a feel for Utah's unique powder snow in advance of the Olympics. He found his limit when he crashed out of the GS but rode a fine line of near disaster in winning the slalom.

Schlopy's second, while costing him a big payday, reinforced the lift he got from skiing well in the GS. Bothered all season by a respiratory ailment, he's not had the time or the strength to devote to training. The Park City, Utah native used his time at home to work on equipment and technique problems, and his results this weekend showed him he's on the way back to the form that carried him to a third-place finish in the World Cup giant slalom standings last season.

``Bode's been winning World Cups and to end up 7 hundredths behind him today is a good place to start again,'' Schlopy said. ``It's tough to lose by 7 hundredths, especially since Bode's already qualified for the Olympics (in slalom), so it would have been nice to have that.''

There's still a chance that Schlopy could grab one of the American spots in the slalom by posting some top World Cup results in January.

Paul Casey Puckett of Snowmass, Colo., was third Sunday, 0.61 seconds behind Miller. Tom Rothrock of Federal Way, Wash., was fourth in 1:34.10 and Chip Knight of Stowe, Vt., was fifth in 1:34.96.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press

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