WENGEN, Switzerland - Ivica Kostelic, of Croatia, won a World Cup slalom Sunday for his first victory this season, dropping to his knees and kissing the snow at the finish.
Kostelic led after the first leg and completed the two runs in 1 minute, 40.34 seconds for his 10th career victory on the circuit.
Sweden's Andre Myhrer was 0.29 back in second. Austria's Reinfried Herbst was third, trailing Kostelic by 0.51.
For the U.S., Ted Ligety finished eighth and Jimmy Cochran 12th. Bode Miller skied out in the top half and was among 22 of 69 racers who did not finish the first run, including two-time world champion Mario Matt, of Austria, and Manfred Moelgg, of Italy, the 2008 World Cup slalom champion.
Kostelic returned to skiing Jan. 6, less than four weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He has had seven operations on his right knee and another on his left. The 2002 World Cup slalom champion is also troubled by back pain.
"I was nervous because I've never lost a race I was leading," he said. "It's not easy holding a lead ... and I knew I was going for victory."
Herbst extended his lead in the World Cup slalom standings over Julien Lizeroux, of France, who placed fifth after winning last week at Adelboden, Switzerland.
Benjamin Raich, of Austria, finished fourth and closed within 18 points of overall leader Carlo Janka, of Switzerland, who has 757 points. Janka won the classic Lauberhorn downhill Saturday and did not compete Sunday.
Kostelic finished second in the season-opening slalom in Finland in November but chose to have surgery after racing in Val d'Isere, France.
He has skied impressively in Switzerland the past nine days. He did well in the first run of Adelboden's giant slalom, which was abandoned because of thick fog, then finished third behind Lizeroux in slalom the next day. He was sixth behind Miller in Wengen's super-combined Friday, then placed 20th in the Lauberhorn downhill, his weakest discipline.
"I'm surprised that my knee is still holding up pretty well," Kostelic said. "The doctors who went inside said they never saw a knee look so good after so many traumas."
Kostelic said his priority is a medal at next month's Vancouver. He won a silver in the combined at the Turin Games four years ago. His sister is Janica Kostelic, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion.
Ted Ligety was eighth and Jimmy Cochran took 12th, getting back on track in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom in Wengen on Sunday.
"It just takes a little confidence," said Ligety, who had been training well in slalom, but struggling to finish two solid runs. "The slalom is just so quick, there's just so many different things coming at you that you have to have the confidence just to go at it full speed, and I think this will kind of help me go that way."
Cochran's only detour from the slalom points this season was last weekend in Adelboden. But he carried steam from a calendar year opening 25th in Zagreb to follow his third best slalom result ever, ninth in Alta Badia, Italy, before Christmas.
"It felt great. It felt solid," Cochran said. "I think I probably could have been a little faster, but it's great for me."
"For both those guys, the goal was to get to the finish and score some World Cup points, and they did that, so it's a mission accomplished today," U.S. Ski Team head coach Sasha Rearick said.
Bode Miller made a tactical error that sent him off course in the first run of the event.
"We've still got some work to do, but he's coming to form," Rearick said of the two-time World Cup overall champion. "It was great to have him back on the top of the podium in Friday's super combined, and we also had Ted in there with fifth. This team needed to work on some super combined points and these guys got the job done."
"I felt like it was a good weekend," Ligety said. "I've been struggling to get to the bottom in slalom, and I felt like this was a major step in the right direction. Eighth place is really not my goal for every race, but it's definitely a good stepping stone."
Ligety was fifth fastest on his second run after a first run that he called "safe."
"This is, in my mind, the coolest slalom hill on the World Cup tour," he said. "It has the farm house in the middle of the course and it has a lot of terrain. And a lot of courses have a lot of terrain, but this one has a good flow to the terrain."
Ligety said he's looking forward to a different experience in these Olympics from Torino, where he won the combined gold medal in 2006.
"In a way, I'm kind of coming in under the radar again, because (Lindsey Vonn) is kind of dominating so hard on that side, but it's definitely different this time around," he said. "I feel like I'm challenging in four events. I have a decent chance in every event I'm going to be racing."
Struggles followed his Olympic glory in 2006, but Rearick said Ligety rediscovered his formula for success.
"The 2007 season, he went back to the fundamentals of what made him good: work ethic, training, not testing skis all the time, working on his ski and he went out and worked really hard in the gym, pushed really hard on just keeping equipment simple, and next year he won the GS title," Rearick said.
The two-hour flight time from his home town Park City, Utah, to Vancouver also gives Ligety reason to relish these games, where his friends and family will be plentiful.
"It's nice taking the Euros out of Europe," Ligety said. "They can go home every couple days when they're on the World Cup tour, and it's nice to have them living out of their duffle bags, like we do, for a little while. That's huge for us, because those guys are always complaining when they're over in North America, so it's good to kind of take them out of their element a little bit."