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Paris (AFP) - Italy's Federica Brignone hailed the "dream of a lifetime" after being crowned overall Women's World Cup alpine skiing champion on Wednesday after the coronavirus outbreak scuppered the final races of the season.
"The dream of a lifetime has come true, I admit that I cried for happiness," said the 29-year-old from Val D'Aoste in northwestern Italy.
"I'm proud to have achieved this result in such a difficult moment for Italy, I hope to have brought a smile to our country."
Brignone was declared the overall winner after the last three races in the Swedish resort of Are were cancelled because of the virus which has swept Europe, and hit her native Italy hard.
The holder of the title, Mikaela Shiffrin, who had won each of the past three titles finished second after missing a month of the season having returned to the United States following the death of her father.
"I was having a snack together with (Italian skier) Marta Bassino and our physiotherapist when the coaches informed us of the organising committee's decision," said Brignone, who becomes the first Italian woman to win the overall World Cup crown.
"For a moment I thought it was a joke, then I realised that it was all true."
Brignone finished on the podium 11 times this season, with five wins, in four different disciplines -- giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined.
"I would have preferred to win it on the piste," she added. "Winning it in this way is certainly not what I wanted.
"But I was in the top positions almost at every race and for the whole season, so I think I deserve it.
"(My) confidence was at the highest level because I am skiing well in all disciplines."
The International Ski Federation cut the season short after three members of the World Cup circuit's sponsor support team were placed under quarantine after displaying coronavirus symptoms.
One of them tested positive for the virus on Wednesday having showed symptoms in Kvitfjell last weekend, although none of the trio came into contact with anyone in Are.
"The health and welfare of the athletes and all other participants, as well as the general public are in the forefront and the priority of FIS and all stakeholders," the body said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.
The World Cup finals, scheduled for Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy between March 16-22, were cancelled last week due to the outbreak of the virus which has caused 827 deaths in the country.
Brignone's previous best overall finish was fifth in 2017 and she finished sixth last season.
"My victory comes at a very delicate moment for many sporting and non-sporting reasons," she said.
"The crystal globe was not given to me and I don't even know when the ceremony will take place," added the Olympic giant slalom bronze medallist.
All sport in Italy has been suspended until April 3.