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Grugger claims first World Cup win

Speed specialist Grugger 'fought hard' for his downhill win in Italy

BORMIO, Italy (Reuters) -- Johann Grugger won his first World cup race and led an Austrian sweep of the podium in the downhill on Bormio's challenging Stelvio slope on Wednesday.

Speed specialist Grugger, whose previous best was third in downhills at Val Gardena earlier this month and St Anton last season, finished in one minute 55.77 seconds.

Michael Walchhofer, winner of Val Gardena's super-G, was second in 1:56.01 and Fritz Strobl third in 1:56.43.

Conditions were difficult with gusting winds slowing several skiers and causing visibility problems with swirling snow blowing across the lower part of the slope.

Those affected included World Cup leader Bode Miller of the U.S., winner of six races this season, who was 14th according to provisional timings, and last year's champion Hermann Maier of Austria, who finished 11th.

Grugger, in his second World Cup season, said he was immensely proud to win ahead of World champion Walchhofer as well as Olympic champion Strobl.

"I'm living an incredible moment," he said.

"I fought hard for this today. I don't know how much I was helped by the wind in the lower part but I was already very fast in the upper section."

Grugger was the 30th Austrian to win a World Cup downhill since the competition proper started in 1967 and his win was the 146th in downhills for his nation.

The leading Austrian downhiller remains Franz Klammer with 25 wins.

"This course suits the Austrian team because you have to be very focused and aggressive. We once took the first six places (1998), but to take top four is not bad either," Grugger said.

"It's great to win my first downhill race on this course on which the next Worlds will take place. I think I have a strong chance to be racing here in a month. I already proved in training that I'm skiing this course very well."

The World Championships take place in Bormio from January 29 to February 13, where Walchhofer will be defending his downhill title.

"I did my best to win and I don't think I made a major mistake," Walchhofer said.

"It's also important for my confidence looking forward for the Worlds next month. I know for sure that I have a good chance of defending my title here."

Walchhofer added he would be donating his winnings to the rescue effort for the tsunami disaster in southeast Asia.

Flying Finn

Finland's Janne Ahonen won the opening round of the Four Hills ski jumping as the 53rd edition of the prestigious event got underway at Oberstdorf in Germany

The 27-year-old, who has won seven of the eight World Cup rounds so far this season, is going for his third tournament triumph having won in 1999 and 2003.

Ahonen took victory with 268.4 points from two jumps of 127m and 133.5m with Roar Ljoekelsoy of Norway in second (258.8pts) and Adam Malysz of Poland third on 253.8.

The Four Hills tournament continues on January 1 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and concludes in Austria at Innsbruck on January 3 and Bischofshofen three days later.

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