Kostelic cruises in 2nd | AspenTimes.com

Kostelic cruises in 2nd

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Janica Kostelic of Croatia, with a pair of deuces, raked in a big pot of World Cup points this weekend in Aspen.

She finished second in Friday’s super G race behind Hilde Gerg of Germany, and she was second behind Anja Paerson of Sweden in Saturday’s slalom on Aspen Mountain.

“She is on the podium every day,” said Paerson of Kostelic. “She is skiing so good, and she is the one you want to beat.”

There have been five races so far this season on the women’s World Cup circuit, and Kostelic has been on the podium four times.

“It is a good beginning, I think, of the season,” Kostelic said, with typical understatement.

“I skied OK today, nothing special,” she said after Saturday’s slalom. “I can’t say that I am happy with my skiing.”

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The other women on the World Cup circuit aren’t real happy with it either. The 20-year-old skier, who won an unprecedented four Olympic medals in alpine skiing in Salt Lake City, is now well ahead in this season’s overall World Cup competition.

She flew out of Aspen Sunday morning for Lake Louise, Canada, to race in two downhills and a super G race next weekend.

“I prefer that she stay with slalom and giant slalom,” said Italy’s Isolde Kostner, a downhiller who recognizes Kostelic’s ability in any alpine discipline.

Normally Kostelic is seen as more of threat in a slalom or giant slalom race, but Friday’s super G course on Aspen Mountain was tight and technical and well suited to her ability.

“I like this super G, it is really nice,” she said. “It is not like the slalom, it is really interesting to do.”

Kostelic remained dismissive of the slalom course on Aspen Mountain, however. Two years ago after winning the slalom event, she called the local course flat, easy and “Mickey Mouse.”

“It still is,” she said Saturday. “It is just the kind of course where you have to attack, and that’s the only thing you actually have to do on it. You just have to attack and attack.”

From the start of the first run of Saturday’s slalom, it was a duel between Kostelic and Paerson, who won four World Cup slalom races last year and a bronze medal in slalom in the 2002 Olympics.

Paerson and Kostelic were the first two racers down the course, which was hard and icy on the Strawpile section and firm and grippy on the lower 5th Avenue section.

Paerson crossed the finish line at 47.45 seconds. Then, making it look easy, Kostelic followed right up with a time of 47.28.

In the second slalom run of 30 racers, Paerson and Kostelic were the last two skiers to leave the start.

Paerson, 21, went for it. “If you want to win, you have to risk everything, ” she said.

The second course had more turns than the first, and Paerson crossed the line in 51.20 seconds.

Then she watched, along with a raucous Aspen crowd, as Kostelic smiled in the starting gate and then sped flawlessly down the course.

But the “Croatian Sensation” came in .58 seconds back of the Swede, and a joyous Paerson dove on the snow in a victorious belly-flop, knowing her combined time of 1:38.65 was good enough for first place.

“I do it only when the crowd is good,” Paerson said of her dive in the snow. “This was a good crowd.”

Marlies Schild of Austria had the fastest second run and came in third in the slalom, .53 seconds off the combined time of the winner.

In the super G on Friday, Kostelic started in the 23rd position.

To add more suspense to the speed event, a reverse-30 start order was used for the first time by the International Ski Federation.

Previously the skiers with the best record in super G would draw bib numbers and take positions between 5 and 15.

But on Friday, Hilde Gerg, the best super G skier in the world based on last year’s rankings, started 30th.

“Today, it was perfect conditions, so for the first race with the new rules, I think it was OK,” said Gerg. “If the whole winter, the slope was like this, then we can do this.”

With her time of 1:17.89, Gerg claimed her 15th victory on the World Cup circuit and her sixth in super G races.

But she barely squeaked by in what was a tight race, even for ski racing.

Kostelic was just .06 seconds behind Gerg, which was enough to claim second place. And veteran downhiller Isolde Kostner of Italy was just .05 seconds behind Kostelic, and took third.

“It was very good,” Kostner said of the course. “I started with number 40, and it was just great, perfect.”

Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, was just .17 seconds off the leader and .06 seconds off the podium. (See related story.)

Michaela Dorfmeister, the defending overall World Cup champion who won the 2000 Aspen super G race, finished on Friday in seventh place with a time of 1:18.28, just .39 seconds off the winner’s pace.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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