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Sunday, February 17, 2002
Italy's Ceccarelli surprise winner; Lalive falls again

Associated Press

SNOWBASIN, Utah -- Daniela Ceccarelli was born to ski. It just took her a long time to become a winner.

Daniela Ceccarelli had never finished in the top five of a World Cup race before this season. Now, she's a gold medalist.

The Italian picked the perfect spot for her first international victory, winning the Olympic super giant slalom Sunday.

While her gold medal was a shocker, another flop by American Caroline Lalive came as no surprise. Lalive fell 10 seconds into her run and has failed to finish nine straight Olympic or world championship races.

Lalive, considered America's best all-around female skier, also crashed out of Tuesday's downhill and dropped out of Thursday's combined event after falling on a slalom run.

"I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. All of us realize what a hard thing she is going through," said U.S. teammate Kathleen Monahan. "We're trying to help her and support her and hopefully break her out of this rut."

Ceccarelli, 26, whose ski-crazy parents honeymooned on a glacier, grew up in a suburb of Rome -- hours from the nearest ski area. She left home at the age of 15 to join a ski club.

Her story is similar to that of her Italian compatriot, slalom great Alberto Tomba, who grew up in industrial Bologna.

Ceccarelli said she owed her victory to her dad, Roberto, a retired fighter pilot.

"This love for speed and adrenaline comes from him. Since I was a child he encouraged me to believe in myself," she said. "The passion was transferred to me from my parents. On my own, my only merit is that I have dared to dream."

Ceccarelli, a military policewoman who never finished in the top five of a World Cup race before this season, seemed stunned when she looked at the finish-area scoreboard showing she had moved into first place.

"This is a big surprise, even though when I was coming down I knew I was doing well," Ceccarelli said. "I still don't believe what I've done. The performance is still fresh, but the accomplishment is a dream."

Ceccarelli finished the winding Wildflower course in 1 minute, 13.59 seconds. The slope's sharp twists and turns kept the racers on the edge of their skis for much of the race.

"I didn't expect her to win the gold. I don't think anyone did," said Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer, who finished fourth. "It's kind of crazy here."

Janica Kostelic of Croatia, who won the combined event on Thursday, finished 0.05 behind Ceccarelli for her second medal in four days. Italy's Karen Putzer won the bronze.

The top American in Sunday's race was Kirsten Clark, who was 14th. Jonna Mendes was 16th and Monahan finished 17th.

The race was missing two Super G champions.

Picabo Street, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist, failed to make the U.S. Super G team and announced her retirement after Tuesday's downhill. Reigning world champion Regine Cavagnoud of France was killed in an October training accident.

Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden, who finished 12th, said it probably was her last race in a career that has included three Olympic medals and six world championship medals.

In addition to her three falls at the Salt Lake City Games, Lalive failed to finish any of her three events at the 2001 world championships and was a non-finisher in her last three events at the 1999 world championships in Vail, Colo.

The last major race she finished was the Super G at those 1999 world championships, when she came in 28th.

Lalive, 22, is finished for these Olympics after coming in with hopes of a medal.

"Everyone knows if she finishes, her time could be really fast," Meissnitzer said. "She needs a bit more experience. She needs to learn from what happened today."