Armando Trovati, Associated Press
SCHLADMING, Austria — Austrian veteran Klaus Kroell won the World Cup downhill title Wednesday after holding on to his lead over Swiss rivals Beat Feuz and Didier Cuche in the final event of the season.
Kroell finished the race seventh and edged Feuz by seven points after the Swiss finished second in the race behind winner Aksel Lund Svindal. Cuche, who will retire after the season, placed 17th and failed to score points.
"This is definitely the biggest achievement of my career," Kroell said. "It's fantastic to get this result here with so many fans supporting me."
Svindal, a former overall champion from Norway, finished the 1.8-mile Planai course in 1 minute, 46.82 seconds. Feuz was 0.57 behind, and Hannes Reichelt of Austria was third, 0.67 behind.
Kroell, who led the downhill standings for the first time in his 14-year World Cup career, started the race 48 points clear of Cuche and 51 ahead of Feuz.
Last season, Cuche overtook leader Michael Walchhofer of Austria in the final race but never came close to repeating that feat.
The Swiss standout made a couple of untypical mistakes early in his run and almost skied out shortly afterward. He lost balance and avoided falling by pushing up with both hands on the snow before finishing 2.55 seconds behind Svindal.
"That surely was not the farewell I hoped for," said Cuche, who missed out on his final chance to match Austrian great Franz Klammer's record of five career downhill titles.
"I didn't start well and after that, it was hard to get going," Cuche said. "Congratulations to Klaus, he is a deserved winner."
Kroell said he was not aware of Cuche's result when he went down the course. Kroell struggled with the soft snow during Tuesday's training run and seemed to lack speed in some sections during the race as well.
"I first thought I had blown it all," Kroell said. "I had the sixth time at that moment and that would not have been enough if Cuche had got a good result."
Feuz started immediately after Kroell and needed a win to overtake the Austrian in the standings.
However, Feuz was behind Svindal's leading time throughout and trailed the Norwegian by more than half a second. Feuz celebrated the result as if he had won the race.
"The pressure on me was immense," said Feuz, who extended his lead in the overall standings. "I had no idea what Klaus had done so I was just very happy with my result. Second place is a giant relief."
Feuz earned 80 points and now leads Marcel Hirscher of Austria, who skipped the downhill, by 135 points in the overall with three races left.
"Everybody keeps asking me about the overall, and I just try to get it out of my head and focus on my racing," Feuz said.
Svindal, who crashed during Tuesday's training run, put in a near-flawless run for his first downhill victory of the season.
"This was perfect," said Svindal, who is favored to win the super-G title on Thursday. "It was important to be fast today so I am a bit more relaxed for tomorrow's race."
The win also means that Svindal still has an outside chance for the overall title, trailing Feuz by 199 points.
"I don't count on anything," Svindal said. "Both Beat and Marcel must make several major mistakes and I don't expect them to do that."
Max Franz avoided a crash while racing at more than 60 mph when he caught a bump and lost his right ski. The Austrian managed to slow down on one ski and used a safety net to stop.
The final women's downhill of the season was scheduled for later Wednesday.
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