By ERIC WILLEMSEN, Associated Press
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) — Ivica Kostelic of Croatia won a rain-drenched World Cup slalom Sunday while Marcel Hirscher of Austria clinched the season title in the event after his sole rival skied out in the opening run.
Kostelic mastered the difficult conditions on the Podkoren course to finish in a total time of 1 minute, 45.81 seconds. Hirscher was 0.19 behind in second and fellow Austrian Mario Matt came in third, 0.34 behind Kostelic.
Hirscher led Felix Neureuther by 184 points going into the race. The German was left with no chance to make up the deficit when he straddled a gate in the opening run.
"I am totally relieved," said Hirscher, who won the giant slalom globe last season on his way to winning the overall title. "To win the slalom globe means a lot to me. I am more relaxed now. The small globe is important as I hadn't won this one before."
The Austrian turned 24 last week and is the youngest man to win the slalom globe since Kostelic in 2002. He is the seventh Austrian to win the title, more than any other country.
Hirscher has finished in the top three of all World Cup slaloms this season, making him the first man with eight straight slalom podiums since Italian great Alberto Tomba in 1991-92. Hirscher also placed second and first respectively in the two city events in Munich and Moscow, which counted for the slalom standings.
The Austrian leads Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who skipped the race, by 149 points in the overall standings with four events remaining at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Ted Ligety, who won his fourth giant slalom title Saturday, finished 2.80 off the lead in 18th. In his first run, the American had a costly mistake that almost threw him off course at the fifth gate. He recovered to stay in the race but came in 3.87 behind.
"Miserable day for ski racing," Ligety wrote on Twitter, where he posted a photo of the spectators sheltering under umbrellas.
"It's been a tough day," Ligety said. "I didn't ski very well and these are really bad conditions."
Ligety earned 13 World Cup points to retain his third place in the overall standings, holding a 74-point lead over fourth-place Neureuther.
Alexis Pinturault of France opened the race on a rapidly deteriorating course and led the field by 1.45 seconds after the first leg, but failed to finish his final run. Kostelic, who was 1.51 off the lead, benefited from Pinturault's mistake to land his second victory of the season and 26th overall.
"This is a very emotional win for me," Kostelic said. "I have been training on this hill as a kid and have raced here more than anywhere else. The win means a lot to me. It was a tough day for all of us."
Kostelic, who won the overall title two year ago, said he would have tests for his recurring knee problems later Sunday but confirmed he will start in the World Cup finals.
Many racers were critical of the conditions. The snow had already been softened after days of mild temperatures. Rain made the course even weaker.
"As a late starter, you have no chance," said Austrian veteran Benjamin Raich, who failed to finish his first run. "The course is not holding up well. It's not dangerous but it's not fair, either."
Kostelic agreed, saying the race was "not fair for late numbers, but we have seen worse courses on the World Cup."
The slalom was the last event before the World Cup finals start Wednesday.
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