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Austria's Marcel Hirscher wins World Cup night slalom on tough course, gains overall lead
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) ' Austria's Marcel Hirscher overcame a rapidly deteriorating course in warm weather to win a World Cup night slalom Thursday and take first place in the overall standings.
Hirscher led after the first run and finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 51.84 seconds, beating Felix Neureuther of Germany by 0.29 seconds. Defending overall champion Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was third, 0.48 behind.
"It was really difficult to race here," said Hirscher, who also won a slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, in December. "I went to the limit, came close to skiing out, but taking the risks has paid off."
In the overall standings, Hirscher passed Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who skipped the race. Hirscher has 525 points, followed by Svindal with 456, Ted Ligety of the United States with 403 and Kostelic with 389.
Ligety started 17th in the first run and skied free of mistakes to place sixth, but could not cope with the soft snow in his final run and finished 14th, three seconds off the lead.
Between runs, Ligety said the soft snow prevented racers with lower start numbers from having equal chances.
"This snow does not make for a fair race," he said. "It is what it is but it's not the normal, usual World Cup conditions. It's impossible when it is this warm. It's not fair for the whole field."
Teammate Bode Miller, who has been struggling in the slalom, skipped the race. He spent time in Spain playing golf, the U.S. team said.
Kostelic had a top-three finish on his home hill for a fourth time, but the Croat has yet to win the race.
"I had to deal with the pressure as well, so it was a very hard race for me," said Kostelic, who was cheered by 18,000 fans. "I am a little bit relieved now."
Hirscher said he didn't hear the large crowds, mainly from Croatia, during his final run.
"It became quiet so I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not," the Austrian said. "I just knew that I had to attack all the way down."
Neureuther had the seventh-fastest time in the final run to place second for his best slalom result of the season.
"There were some extreme holes in the snow," the German said. "Marcel and I had the good starting numbers in the first run; we had the bad ones in the final. So that's OK."
World slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange skied out in his first run after catching a bump, and French teammate Steve Missillier was fastest in the final run to climb from 21st to sixth.
The men's World Cup travels to Adelboden, Switzerland, for another slalom and a giant slalom this weekend.