Steady and consistent, Austria's Benjamin Raich, 28, has completed his climb to the top of the World Cup—a series of alpine events that rewards steadiness and consistency.
Raich, the 2006 Olympic giant slalom and slalom gold medalist, clinched his first-ever World Cup overall title by winning Friday's slalom at Shiga Kogen, Japan and finishing fourth in Saturday's SL.
With 1,310 points, Raich is far ahead of second-place Michael Walchhofer of Austria with just four races to go. Raich is this year's combined World Cup champion, and he's got a 19-point lead towards another giant slalom season championship.
The World Cup finals open to the top 25 skiers in each discipline plus Junior World Championship gold medalists are today through Sunday at Are, Sweden, host of the 2007 World Alpine Ski Championships.
Having finished in the top 10 on the World Cup since 1999, Pitzal-raised Raich made his big move in the last three years. He was third overall behind Austria's Hermann Maier in 2004, second to U.S. racer Bode Miller in 2005 and first in 2006.
American Ted Ligety continued his late-season charge by finishing fifth and 10th in the Japan slaloms. Ligety (600 points) has risen to ninth in the overall standings. Last year's overall king Miller (748) and Daron Rahlves (747) are sixth and seventh.
Meanwhile, 2006 Olympic combined women's gold medalist Janica Kostelic, 23, of Croatia moved a step closer to dethroning two-time defending World Cup queen Anja Paerson, 24, of Sweden last weekend.
Kostelic, who lost the World Cup title last March by a three-point margin to Paerson, maintains a 1,720 to 1,466 lead over Paerson with just the World Cup Finals to go. Kostelic and Paerson shared World Cup slaloms wins last weekend in Finland.
U.S. racer Lindsey Kildow was fourth and sixth in the Finland SLs and currently stands fourth with 947 points in the World Cup standings behind Kostelic (1,720), Paerson (1,466) and Austria's downhill and super giant slalom World Cup titlist Michaela Dorfmeister (1,228).
The U.S. Alpine Championships are March 25-30 at Sugarloaf, Me.