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Veteran skier still believes

Jon Maletz

Seven days.In seven days, the doctors will be silent. Eighteen days of rehabilitation, personal reflection and determination will be put to the test. The nagging questions will finally elicit an answer. American skier Kristina Koznick will find out whether she can make a run at slalom gold on her partially torn knee ligament.Koznick’s mother, Mary Jane Steneman, isn’t about to count her daughter out.”It sure would be something if she was skiing with a brace and won,” said Steneman, an Aspen resident. “I believe in miracles.”It’s been little more than a week since Koznick tore ligaments in her right knee during a warmup for a World Cup giant slalom in Germany. The 30-year-old skied over a blind 6-foot ledge while heading from one warmup course to the other and landed awkwardly on the catwalk below. Koznick initially planned to return to Colorado for surgery, she wrote on her website, but her plans changed after she received word part of her ACL was still connected. Despite mounting odds, Koznick decided to remain in Europe and rehabilitate her knee.”The fighter in me can’t let go,” Koznick wrote. “Hope is a very powerful thing.”Koznick continues to stay positive and says she is feeling a little stronger with each passing day, Steneman said. Koznick recently traveled to Switzerland to have a brace specially fitted, and found a pool in Bardonecchia – 30 miles from the Olympic Village in Turin – where she can continue therapy.Koznick was on crutches Tuesday while she watched the luge, Steneman said. She is learning how to savor the moment, no matter what.Koznick is no stranger to adversity on her sport’s grandest stage. She had to watch the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, from her couch after tearing her ACL. In 1998 in Nagano, Japan, Koznick approached her first run apprehensively and skied off course, failing to qualify for the slalom. In Salt Lake in 2002, she finished 17th in the GS and failed to finish the slalom. Koznick told The Aspen Times in November that the 2005-06 season would be her last. Her family can do nothing but continue to support “the Koz” and pray this season – and a career – ends on the skier’s terms.”We’ll be there for a hug, one way or the other,” Steneman said. The family’s travel plans have not changed. Steneman is flying to Italy today. She will stay with an Italian host family, and said she plans on attending the figure skating original dance competition, as well as freestyle skiing.Steneman tries not to think about the crash that altered her daughter’s Olympic outlook, she said. She tries not to think about the European doctors who have said, were Koznick their daughter, they wouldn’t let her compete.She tries not to think about the possibility Koznick’s knee could give out next Wednesday and said she cringed when Lindsey Kildow, also a Minnesota native, fell during a downhill training run Monday. Steneman remembers sitting at a race and watching a competitor take a “horrendous” fall. Steneman burst out crying, she said, so much so that people approached her, assuming the competitor was Steneman’s daughter.”I hate to see anybody hurt, I just do,” she said. “But it goes with the sport, and I try not to think about it.”Dr. Bill Sterett, an orthopedic surgeon at the Vail Valley Medical Center who is serving as the U.S. Women’s Ski Team doctor in Turin, told Koznick he’d see her for surgery, Steneman said. He will, however, let Koznick’s decision to compete rest in her hands, and on her knee. “Her faith is as strong as her body and that will be her stronghold,” Steneman said. “She will have pain, period. If she can put it out of her mind and she feels stable, she’ll race.”Koznick told Steneman she would wait until the last minute to decide whether to withdraw. U.S. skiers Sarah Schleper and Resi Stiegler, competing for the fourth and final slalom berth, are both in Italy and would be ready to fill in at a moment’s notice.Steneman admitted that she shies away from offering her daughter advice. While she hopes Koznick puts down the run of her career, she said she hopes Koznick’s ultimate decision comes easily and that her daughter never doubts herself for one second. And now, for the next seven days, Steneman, Sterett, coaches, competitors and fans halfway across the globe will wait. Competing is a longshot, Koznick wrote on her website. But Steneman believes in miracles.”We don’t know what is possible,” she said.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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