Ivica Kostelic wins season-opening slalom at Beaver Creek | AspenTimes.com

Ivica Kostelic wins season-opening slalom at Beaver Creek

Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

First-place winner Ivica Kostelic, right, of Croatia, shakes hands with Marcela Hirscher, left, of Austria, at the Men's World Cup slalom ski competition on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Ivica Kostelic settled a score with a course that has given him quite a few scars.

Whipping through gates with unshakeable confidence, the Croatian star won the season-opening World Cup slalom Thursday. He had a two-run time of 1 minute, 50.20 seconds to beat Italy’s Cristian Deville by 0.14 seconds. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher was third.

For once, Kostelic conquered the hill instead of the other way around. He has crashed quite a few times at Birds of Prey, twice being carried down by snow patrol on the back of a sled. Three of his nine knee surgeries have come because of wipeouts at the venue, and he also hurt his back on this course.

No wonder he wanted a little revenge.

“It sounds maybe a little over the top now, but I was dreaming of a day when I would beat this course and finally say, ‘Now, we’re even,'” Kostelic said.

So, now Kostelic and the mountain are officially even, right?

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“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “This time, I won. It felt good.”

Hirscher held a slim lead after the first run, but Kostelic, the reigning overall champion, made up the deficit with a smooth and steady second run. He didn’t think about past falls, just focused on skiing aggressive. That worked out well as he picked up his 19th World Cup win.

“I had a feeling that today was the day, that today was the moment for settling some old issues with this course,” Kostelic said. “I was able to concentrate really well and I said to myself, ‘Just ski instinctively. If you make a mistake, whatever. Just do it. Just ski instinctively.’ That’s what I did. I really tried to push hard.”

American Nolan Kasper finished fourth despite fighting a virus that zapped his strength. He was so pumped at the finish that he took his left ski pole and treated it as a sword, stabbing the air countless times before shoving it into a make-believe holster.

“That came on the fly,” he said about his swashbuckling maneuver.

Kasper is a medical marvel, competing on the World Cup circuit just 3 1/2 months removed from hip surgery. The 22-year-old spent the first seven weeks after the procedure on crutches, healing the hip by running in a pool. Three weeks after shedding the crutches, he was skiing again.

Now, the hip is feeling better than ever.

However, Kasper was nearly sidelined for this race by a virus so severe that it sent him to the hospital earlier in the week. He was in so much pain that he thought it was appendicitis.

It turned out to be just a bug, one that left him violently ill for several days. He was huffing a little when he reached the finish line.

“I was drinking some energy drinks at the start,” he said. “I couldn’t eat food between runs. But it was fine. You pull out as much as you can when you can.”

Fellow American Ted Ligety couldn’t recover from a major mistake at the bottom of the course and fell to 13th, while Bode Miller finished 27th.

“It was a real adjustment on this snow,” said Miller, who won a downhill at Birds of Prey last week. “The way everyone is skiing, you have to have the right setup. You have to have all the components. There’s too many guys right now skiing at a high level to really get away with having one or two things screwed up.”

Ligety’s best event by far is the giant slalom, winning two World Cup races already this season, including one this week at Beaver Creek. But there was a time when he was actually considered a very solid slalom skier as well.

In the offseason, Ligety focused his training more on the slalom, hoping to gain back the rhythm that helped him earn a half-dozen podium finishes in that discipline.

But he hasn’t been back on the podium in the slalom in nearly four years. He had a good chance to end the drought on the closest thing the American men have to a home hill. He skied well in the first run, only to struggle in his second pass.

“Made a huge mistake on the dead flat (section) – had to skate to the finish line, so that cost me a ton of time,” Ligety explained. “But I feel like I made some progress for sure.”

Hirscher had a stellar showing at Birds of Prey. He also finished first and second in two giant slalom races.

Like Kostelic, he vanquished some bad memories with his performance.

“Three years ago, me and Beaver Creek had not a good relationship,” Hirscher said. “Now, we’re getting to be good friends.”

Deville wasn’t even supposed to be in Beaver Creek. But when a slalom race scheduled for Val d’Isere, France, was canceled due to a lack of snow and relocated to Colorado, he quickly changed his plans.

And while Deville wasn’t all that familiar with the hill, it hardly showed as he sped down the course with precision to earn his first spot on the podium. This despite hurting his left foot in August, which hampered his training.

“I can say I’m very, very happy,” Deville said. “I like this place.”