Double Olympic champion Vreni Schneider of Switzerland captured her first gold medal of the World Alpine Ski Championships Saturday after a pair of silvers, taking the women's giant slalom ahead of Carole Merle of France.

Schneider clocked the fastest time in both runs for an unbeatable aggregate of two minutes, 29.37 seconds.Merle placed 1.13 seconds behind on an International course flagged with 47 gates on both runs to earn the silver with 2:30.50.

Unheralded French teammate Christelle Guignard claimed a surprise bronze on 2:31.80, denying fourth-place Mateja Svet of Yugoslavia (2:31.92) the chance for a second medal here in the closing event for women at the two-week championships.

Schneider, winner of all five giant slaloms raced so far on the World Cup circuit, didn't even need to pull out one of her trademark second-run comebacks.

"I was incredibly nervous from last night onwards," Schneider said in the crowded finish pen. "It was a completely new experience for me to hold the lead after the first run. I'm very happy to have won a gold medal."

The 24-year-old Swiss skier maintained her margin from the first run and built upon the gap with a second flawless effort to take the gold.

Merle fell three days ago in the super-giant slalom, her speciality.

"This is wonderful," she said. "It was great to gain a finish like this after the disappointment. I felt a lot of pressure to do well today."

Guignard, who stood ninth after the first leg, said she thought her placing would keep her off of the podium.

"The bronze is fantastic for me. I never thought I had a chance," she said.

Two-time world downhill champion Maria Walliser of Switzerland placed fifth with 2:32.05. She headed West Germany's Karin Dedler (2:32.33) and Cathy Chedal (2:32.97), the third Frenchwoman in the top ten.

"I definitely had some good luck on the steep part near the end, where I made a mistake," Schneider said. "But I think everyone probably made mistakes today.

"The piste and the snow were very difficult. I had two good runs and I gave my best. Certainly gold was my target - but after winning five slaloms and five giant slaloms, I couldn't have any other target. It was a very difficult race."

American Tamara McKinney, who beat Schneider out of a gold in the combined event for the first medal of the championships, lasted only a few seconds and 10 gates into the first run before falling and bruising her right thigh.

Doctors say she will rest at home for two weeks, but should rejoin the World Cup for its finale in Japan in March.

Merle was full of confidence after the solid French showing.

"I knew before the start of my second heat that Christelle had clinched the bronze," she said. "I wanted to do at least as well as she did.

"This is a great finish for France here."

The World Championships close with the men's slalom today.