By JEROME PUGMIRE, Associated Press
MERIBEL, France (AP) — There was only one fitting way for Tina Maze to wrap up the overall World Cup title — with another victory, and with plenty of time to spare.
She clinched her first crystal globe Sunday by winning a super-combined for eighth win of the season. So overpowering was her season that she clinched the overall trophy with nine races to go.
"It's really special because it's so difficult to win. For me, it's special to continue this level of skiing," said Maze, who celebrated with a cartwheel. "To be on the top is amazing. It's a great season for me. Even if there have been ups and downs I have always come back."
To Maze, it was also the perfect response to doubters back home in Slovenia. Some mocked her for having the audacity to dream about becoming the world's best skier.
"I think the people are realizing that the dream came true, that one year ago they were saying 'Ah, this Maze, she's making jokes when she says she will win a globe or something like that. Yeah, she's full of herself' and these kinds of things," Maze said. "In Slovenia, it's (the) mentality. It's better to be sometimes (more mainstream) than to go out (and be different) from the majority.
"I didn't want to be like everybody else. So I'm always looking for something else, something better, something different and I'm really proud of that."
Maze led the downhill and coasted home in the slalom after Maria Hoefl-Riesch crashed out of contention. She tied a season record with her 18th top-three finish, matching the podium mark set by Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein.
"I'm an emotional person, I didn't want to cry (on the podium)," Maze said, adding she felt sick before the slalom. "I went to the toilet six times before I started. A lot of people (were) sick and I guess I get something from them, too."
Maze has 1,844 points in the overall standings and looks all but certain to break the season record —men or women — of 2,000 held by Austrian great Hermann Maier.
Hoefl-Riesch is second in the overall standings but is 958 points behind and has no chance of closing the gap. Each victory is worth 100 points.
Lindsey Vonn, the four-time overall winner and defending champion, fell out of contention after she took a monthlong break because of an intestinal illness and then was done for the season after a knee injury at the world championships. Vonn is still third overall with 740 points.
"I'm really tired now, especially after a long day like today," the 29-year-old Maze said. "Today was so tough, I didn't know where I was. I almost went off the course twice. But I just managed to catch the gates. It's crazy."
She is also seeking to become only the third woman to have at least one win in all five disciplines in one season, and lacks only a downhill victory. She had a chance Saturday but finished fourth. She has two downhills remaining, starting next week in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Vonn won 12 races last season and Maze has a chance of matching that, although Swiss great Vreni Schneider's single-season World Cup record of 14 wins appears out of sight.
Nicole Hosp of Austria, the world championship bronze medalist in the super-combi, finished second. Countrywoman Michaela Kirchgasser took third place with a superb slalom run — 42.66 seconds to Maze's 44.26.
"My target is to be focused until the end of the season because there are many small globes that are open and possible to get," Maze said. "I want to keep this level of skiing until the end, I don't want to go down, I want to keep it at the high level."
Hosp, the World Cup winner in 2007, lauded Maze's consistency.
"There are no words to describe Tina's amazing season," Hosp said.
Julia Mancuso came close to clinching the fourth super-combi podium of her career and her first in six years. But the American made a small mistake midway through, falling forward on her skis.
It seems only an injury can prevent Maze from breaking Maier's points record, set in 1999-2000. Vonn holds the women's record with 1,980 points from last season.
"It has been an extraordinary season for Tina," Kirchgasser said. "To be so far ahead in the points. Last time it was a man who won with more than 2,000 points, and I don't think Tina will be far off."
Maze's phenomenal season also includes three gold medals from the worlds in Schladming, Austria — gold in super-G and silver in super-combi and giant slalom. She lost out on a second gold to Hoefl-Riesch and felt Sunday's win somewhat made up for that.
"I had that in mind because in Schladming I didn't do a good slalom," she said. "I didn't risk a lot and today I did different, so at the end it's a revenge, too, but the priority was better skiing from my side.
"It's a good slope. I had some troubles yesterday in downhill," Maze said. "I had some trouble on the top. But the rest of the hill is like a dream."
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