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Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Kostelic also claims gold in slalom

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- The snow was coming down in clumps the size of corn flakes. The course had more potholes than a New York highway.

No big deal for Janica Kostelic, the Alpine star of the Salt Lake City Games who now stands on the brink of history.

Janica Kostelic of Croatia has a chance Friday for a fourth medal in these Olympic Games.

On a choppy course that wiped out nearly half the competitors, the 20-year-old Croat swept to a slalom victory Wednesday that gave her two golds and a silver so far.

That's three more medals than the total for the entire U.S. women's Alpine team, which is virtually assured of its first medal shutout since the 1988 Calgary Games.

Kostelic, who won the combined event and captured silver in the super giant slalom last week, has a chance in the giant slalom Friday to become the first athlete to win four Alpine medals in one Olympics.

There were only three Alpine events until 1988, when the Super G made its debut and the combined event was reintroduced to the Olympics.

Kostelic's top finish in a World Cup giant slalom this season is 10th, so she won't be a favorite Friday. Still, her career-best fourth-place finish in the event came here in 1999.

"After my combined medal, I got extra power," Kostelic said. "It was kind of easy going after my first medal, my job was done. I'm just enjoying myself and skiing."

While most of her peers struggled to stay upright on a course made choppy by several inches of fresh snow and temperatures in the mid-30s, Kostelic smoothly twisted down the unusually steep slalom course.

"I skied the best way through a bad course," Kostelic said. "It was breaking up. It was rutty."

Kostelic, who missed the first half of the World Cup season while recovering from three offseason operations on her left knee, finished the two runs in 1 minute, 46.10 seconds.

Laure Pequegnot of France was second, 0.07 seconds behind Kostelic. Anja Paerson of Sweden won the bronze. Only 38 of the 68 skiers completed both runs.

A group of about three dozen Croatian fans, some wearing red, white and blue wigs, rang cowbells in celebration at the finish line.

Kostelic is the only Croatian to win a Winter Olympics medal, but that distinction might not last long. Her older brother, Ivica, is a favorite in the men's slalom Saturday.

Kostelic's father, Ante, who also is her coach, said he prayed throughout the entire second slalom run.

"It is a big moment for our family, for our land, for Janica and for me," he said.

Kristina Koznick, the last real U.S. chance for a women's Alpine medal, crashed on the first run. The Minnesotan, who came into the race as the second-best slalomer on the World Cup circuit this season, slipped with five gates remaining -- sending her right ski high in the air.

After coming to a stop, she slumped in the snow in disappointment for several seconds before skiing to the bottom of the course.

"My coach told me I'd be crying today either way, whether I did good or I did bad," she said through tears. "Unfortunately, these aren't the kind of tears I wanted."

Koznick said the course was very rough.

"It felt like that the whole way down," she said. "Oh my gosh, it was like I was on a bull, it was like a rodeo."

U.S. skier Sarah Schleper, who has had several top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit this season, lost a ski about two-thirds of the way down the first run.

The only American to complete both slalom runs was 17-year-old Lindsey Kildow of Vail, Colo., who was 32nd -- a whopping 14.63 seconds behind Kostelic.

American women have not won an Olympic medal in the slalom since 1972.

The only top-10 finish so far by a U.S. woman in four Alpine events is Kildow's sixth place in the combined event. U.S. women's coach Marjan Cernigoj said a medal is unlikely in the giant slalom Friday, which completes the women's program.

As for Kostelic, she faces a small problem before the giant slalom.

She painted her brother's name "I-V-I-C-A" on the nails of her left hand for the combined event and had "M-A-M-A-!" on her nails during the Super G. And Wednesday, her nails spelled "T-A-T-A-!" (Dad, in Serbo-Croatian).

Now she needs another family member.

"I've got a half-sister" named Hrvojka, she said. "But her name is too long and doesn't match the number of my fingers."