Jean-Baptiste Grange takes slalom

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Jean-Baptiste Grange of France capped a long comeback by claiming the final gold medal of the Alpine skiing world championships by winning the men's slalom Sunday.

Grange, long one of the top slalom racers, led after the first run and hung on for the victory, finishing in 1 minute, 41.72 seconds to beat Jens Byggmark of Sweden by 0.43 seconds. Manfred Moelgg of Italy took bronze, 0.61 seconds behind.

"I didn't have a good feeling in the second run at all," Grange said. "I had to fight all the way, I gave it all I had, but when I crossed the line I wasn't sure it would be enough."

Nolan Kasper was the top American, finishing 15th in 1:43.83, and giant slalom champion Ted Ligety was 19th in 1:44.17.

Grange already had a bronze medal from the 2007 worlds, but his career had been slowed by injuries. He was forced to miss last year's Olympics with a right-knee injury at a time when he was the reigning World Cup slalom champion.

"The year 2009 was so hard for me. I was the favorite for the gold [at the worlds] and at the end I had nothing. Then I had the knee injury and the way back was so long."

Grange did not finish the second run at his home worlds in Val d'Isere in 2009.

"There was a lot of pressure on me today because of my failure in France. It's tough to come back after a number of setbacks," said Grange, the first Frenchman to win slalom gold since 1970.

Byggmark jumped from sixth to second to claim the silver. The Swede won two World Cup races -- two consecutive slaloms in Kitzbuehel -- and posted four runner-up finishes in 2007 and '08, but hadn't been on the podium since then, a stretch of more than three years.

"I am still not sure how I did it," Byggmark said. "I only knew I had to ski fast. It's incredible. ... I wasn't concerned with finding a line, I just focused on skiing. It was very tough on the steep sections, but I did well there. Getting a medal is great after so many problems I've had in the past years."

Moelgg, who fell one place to third with a cautious second run, was the 2007 worlds silver medalist.

"It's not easy to stand up there as the second of the first heat and then have a good run," Moelgg said. "I was very tense."

Grange has won three World Cup slalom races this season and is sitting second in the discipline, behind overall leader Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.

Kostelic had two poor runs and finished a distant eighth. The 2003 world slalom champion has collected more points in slalom than in any other discipline this season. Kostelic won seven World Cup races in January.

But the Croat is aiming for his first overall title and treated the world championships as somewhat of a break from the World Cup season. He won bronze in the opening super-G, then returned home for a brief vacation.

Austrian veteran Mario Matt, who won the slalom world titles in 2001 and '07, had the fastest second run to jump from 16th to fourth. He was 0.82 seconds behind the winner and missed the bronze by 0.21 seconds.

Julien Cousineau of Canada was fifth and Naoki Yuasa of Japan was sixth.

Andre Myhrer of Sweden, who was third after the first run, dropped to 10th.

The Gudiberg course had been softened by days of mild weather and workers had to frequently put down salt to firm up the snow between the runners.