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Brilliant Defago wins Bormio downhill

By Patrick Lang

BORMIO, Italy (Reuters) - Olympic champion Didier Defago completed a brilliant return to form with victory in the World Cup downhill in Bormio on Thursday, his first win since his gold medal last year.

Sidelined by a knee injury for the whole of last season, Defago also ended a long Swiss jinx in the Italian resort since Pirmin Zurbriggen won at the 1985 world championships.

Defago led a Swiss one-two in two minutes and 1.81 seconds, ahead of Patrick Kueng, who was 0.29 seconds slower.

Pre-race favorite Klaus Kroell of Austria, impressive in training, had to settle for third place, 0.42 off the pace.

At 34 and after 15 years on the circuit, Defago has only won four World Cup races and four major downhills but all the ones that matter, Kitzbuehel, Wengen, Bormio and the Olympic title.

The skier from Morgins had shown he was not far off from his best level in the eight races he entered since the start of the winter, finishing ninth in the demanding Alta Badia giant slalom last week.

"I'm way ahead of schedule. I was hoping for a podium this season, not for a win," Defago told reporters.

"This year off was very hard for me. I was getting bored and I was looking forward to race here in Bormio. I had marked it down because it's the downhill that suits my style best," he said.

And the Swiss was also helped by a change in weather conditions since the previous days practice. Snow fell overnight and it was softer on race day, favoring stylists rather than strong men.

"It's an important win for me, Bormio is a name that stands out on a downhiller's resume," said Defago, cheered on by his wife and two children in the finish area.

American Bode Miller finished fifth to take charge of the downhill World Cup standings and sixth-placed Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway returned to the top of the overall standings.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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