Koznick looks to double her racing pleasure
From the sound of it, Kristina Koznick is on the verge of something bigger, something faster.”The ball’s already rolling, but this is really, finally, the beginning and I’m champing at the bit,” she said this week on the eve of the first and only women’s alpine World Cup races in the United States this season.”I’m ready to go, ready to go, ready to pour my heart into these races. It’s exciting. This is why we do it. We don’t do it to train, train, train. We do it to race. That’s the awesome part.”A six-time World Cup winner and 17-time podium finisher, all in the slalom, Koznick, 29, enters the 2004-05 season well established as the nation’s top slalom specialist. She is ranked No. 8 in the world.But what has the native Minnesotan particularly pumped this season isn’t the prospect of another slalom tour de force – it’s her newfound speed in the giant slalom. Koznick put her rivals on notice with a fourth-place finish in the season-opening World Cup race, a giant slalom, in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23. It was a career-best showing for the Koz.
Then last Sunday in an FIS race at Breckenridge, Koznick’s slalom season debut against an international field, she bested some 140 racers, including runner-up Janica Kostelic of Croatia by 0.44 seconds.”So expectations are pretty high,” she said, “just because of the way things started and the choices I’ve made. I’m not training with the [U.S. ski] team, I’m training on my own again and I’m surrounded by three guys who believe in me 100 percent and believe I can win every race I start.”Plus,” she added, “I’m just skiing really fast.”Koznick, who wears a U.S. ski team suit but races independent of the team, will be starting all three races this weekend on Aspen Mountain – one giant slalom and two slaloms. (See page 13 for course map and event schedule.)The Aspen Winternational – the 20th World Cup here over the past 55 years – opens with something of an unknown quality. Friday morning will mark the first women’s World Cup giant slalom on Ajax since 1988.With the possible exception of U.S. ski team racers Sarah Schleper and Lindsey Kildow, both of Vail, who may have raced the hill as juniors, the world’s fastest women will enter the giant slalom on relatively equal footing. And that is to say, somewhat in the dark.
“It’s rare that we have a venue that no one’s skied on, and it’s kind of cool,” said Koznick, who was third in the Aspen slalom in 2000 behind Kostelic and Germany’s Martina Ertl. (Koznick did not finish in the last World Cup slalom in Aspen in 2002, when Sweden’s Anja Paerson edged Kostelic for the victory.)”Just skiing past it before, though, it seems like it’s got some great terrain for a GS hill,” she said. “The slalom [course] is a little more tame.”Slalom’s been my discipline for the last 10 or 12 years,” continued Koznick, a two-time Olympian who made her World Cup debut at age 15. “But I’ve been working really hard on giant slalom the last couple years. And now it’s finally like my first season as a true competitor, a true threat, in both events.”Our goal as a team,” she explained, “is to show up at the World Championships [in February] and the  Olympics with two chances to win medals. It’s hard when you’re in just one event, and it’s more fun when you can be competitive in more than one.”And sometimes one event can catapult the other. It’s not like the pressure’s off, but as an athlete I find myself way more motivated. Like this weekend, I’m not taking Friday off. I’m racing all three days. And a good day Friday only makes it easier to have a good day on Saturday. It’s a confidence, contagious thing.”
Aspen has taken on greater significance to Koznick since her mom, Jamie Stenemen, recently became a full-time resident. Koznick splits her time between the Minneapolis area and Nevada, though, for the next four and a half months, she joked, “My driver’s license should just say, ‘Wherever my duffle bag is.’Koznick, whose relationship with the U.S. ski team has at times been the source of divisive headlines, rejoined the team for last season after three years of racing independently. And despite 10 top-10 finishes, last season was a rough one for Koznick, injury-wise and with the team.”I went back to try again, and it went fabulous with the girls and horrible with everything else. … It’s the same program for everybody on the women’s side, whether you’re 18 in your first year or 28 in your 11th year, and I wasn’t OK with that. I wanted my program to be more individualized and they didn’t want to do that. Every time I brought up wanting to train in something different, they’d just get mad at me and tell me to be a team player.”And it’s funny because if you ask any of the girls, I’m a team player. We all love each other and support each other. But I just decided [being independent] was the best thing for me. And now I know the program I’m doing is better for me, and my skiing shows it. It kind of speaks for itself.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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