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Olympics: Maze strikes double gold with giant slalom win

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Slovenia's Tina Maze bagged her second alpine skiing gold of the Sochi Olympics on Tuesday when she won a thrilling women's giant slalom from Austrian arch-rival Anna Fenninger.

In tricky weather conditions that included heavy snow, torrential rain and fog, the 30-year-old Slovenian clocked a combined total of 2min 36.87sec over the two runs in Rosa Khutor.

Maze, who'd had to share downhill gold with Switzerland's Dominique Gisin last week after a first-ever Winter Olympic alpine dead heat, had it all to do on her second run.

The Slovene set the fastest time down the first run, meaning she started last of the top 30 racers in running order for the second descent.

Maze had seen fourth-placed Fenninger, who was also looking for a second gold after winning Saturday's super-G, storm into the lead, which changed hands seven times in a dramatic climax to the event.

Starting with an 0.85sec lead over the Austrian, Maze's deficit was slowly eroded away in the increasingly slushy conditions, but she hung on through to the finish line to sneak home by just seven-hundredths of a second.

"I can live with that!" Maze said. "This season I'd focused on the Olympics. I was ready for this, it's what I came here to do.

"It was tough for me to keep the same rhythm as last year in the World Cup. but I knew I was going to show my best here, it's great. The rest of the season doesn't matter."

Fenninger was also left satisfied despite missing out on gold by the smallest of margins.

"My second run was really cool," said the 24-year-old. "After the first run I knew in the start I would have to take a lot of risk and I did and I'm really happy that that was enough for a medal."

Defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany took bronze, a further 0.20sec adrift, to make up for the absence of teammate Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who was a late withdrawal, the super-combined winner complaining of 'flu-like conditions.

- Vanessa Mae in last spot -

"I can hardly believe it," said a stunned Rebensburg. "I was quite far down in the first run but I knew I could go looking for a bit more.

"I'm still not firing on all cylinders but I got a medal and that's essential."

Rebensburg laid down the fastest second run as three of just four racers to get within a second of Maze's leading first run, Sweden's World Cup giant slalom leader Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, Italian Nadia Fanchini and American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, all fell out of contention.

Shiffrin, 18, ended up fifth at 0.50sec, just behind Fanchini (+0.38sec), and will now continue her bid to become the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing in her preferred slalom on Friday.

It has been a remarkable Games for Maze, further confirming that her hard-nosed decision to switch coaches to Mauro Pini just a month before the Olympics was paying off.

Last year's overall World Cup winner and a triple-medallist at the Schladming world championships, Maze had been left stunned with her poor performances at the start of the season.

But her form in Sochi has rebounded and she is yet to finish lower than seventh in a race on the Rosa Khutor slopes.

"You don't normally change coaches in mid-season," said Maze. "But I had that opportunity, so why not if it could work out better for me?"

The giant slalom also saw the debut of violin virtuoso Vanessa Mae, who became Thailand's first ever female skier at the Olympics.

The 35-year-old Singapore-born British former child prodigy, racing for the country from which her natural father hails, finished in 67th and last place, with a time of 3min 26.97sec, a massive 50.10sec off Maze.

Her hesitant, conservative style of skiing was a marked difference to that of the elite skiers, but at least, she finished the race -- unlike 22 of the initial 89 racers who failed to make it down over the two legs.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140218/olympics-maze-strikes-double-gold-giant-slalom-win-1