Whitefish, Mont. March 28, 2001 (AP by Tim Korte)--Kristina Koznick's season of independence was also a season of trial.
She left the U.S. Ski Team last summer after falling in love with a coach, then spent $125,000 from savings and personal fund-raising to race independently on the World Cup circuit.
Looking back on whether the move was worth it, Koznick feels it was great for training, but tougher to produce the results she wanted.
``I wanted to win a world championship medal, win the slalom title and be top 15 in giant slalom,'' said Koznick, who had three podiums and was 16th in the World Cup overall standings, the top American finish.
``I didn't achieve any of those goals, so it's hard to look at it and say I had an OK season,'' she said.
On the other hand, she trained on her own terms, and her friendship with former ski team coach Dan Stripp blossomed. They're a couple now, with Koznick competing and Stripp acting as coach and manager.
Koznick, of Eden Prairie, Minn., placed fourth in the women's giant slalom Tuesday at the U.S. Alpine nationals.
The way Koznick, 25, describes her romance and independent season, there's a clear-cut villain. When sparks began between Koznick and Stripp, she said ski team coaches and administrators frowned.
``The ski team had serious issues with us being really good friends,'' she said. ``They didn't like it. They didn't want anything to do with it, even if it would have brought me to No. 1 in the world.''
Alan Ashley, the ski team's vice president for athletics, agrees the romance caused a stir. But he also said Koznick bent or ignored training routines, making the relationship a lesser concern.
``That's one of the issues,'' Ashley said. ``The other is how we structure the training program, the expectations of how we work together as a team. I believe you've got to maintain the rules.''
Koznick still gets along with her former teammates.
``It really didn't affect us,'' Jonna Mendes said. ``Koz and I were buds before and I see no reason to change that.''
After five years of training, racing and living with the ski team, Koznick became a lone wolf. She no longer stayed in the team hotel, but she enjoyed the liberty of training the way she wanted.
``It's great for my skiing,'' she said. ``It was a smart decision, as far as being on the hill, the work I'm getting done.''
The competition results were mixed. Along with seconds and thirds, she had plenty of 11ths and 12ths.
``I was consistently in the top 15 all season, just not the consistency I was looking for,'' she said. ``I wanted to gets wins and top threes. Considering what I went through, organizing these changes, I think that's great.''
There were new challenges. She handled matters that never surfaced as a team member, such as arranging travel and lodging. And of course, she also had to come up with funds.
``I was too involved this year in the hotel reservations, the fund-raising and knowing where the money was,'' she said. ``Next year, I've got to let Dan take care of all that and just concentrate on skiing.''
Koznick and Ashley said it's too bad there was a split. Each hinted at the possibility of reconciliation, but with a compromise unlikely, it seems one side would have to give in completely.
``I'm perfectly comfortable with her, with Dan and with her skiing,'' Ashley said. ``I'd rather have her as part of the team, but I don't believe we can accommodate her system the way she wants it.''
Koznick said: ``I get along with the girls great. They're fine with me doing this. If I could smooth things out with the coaches, it would be ideal.''
Koznick sees herself on the Olympic podium next February. She plans to wave a large flag bearing the names of people who bought T-shirts through her Web site or donated to support her racing.
``I know when I get my Olympic medal that I've earned it,'' she said. ``Itt will be one for the U.S. I want to win for the U.S. wholeheartedly, but it won't be for the U.S. Ski Team.''
On the Web:
Koznick's Web site: www.koznick.com
U.S. Ski Team site: www.usskiteam.com
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press