Austrian Leads Early in Women's Downhill

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February 15, 2006

SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)—Careening down the icy course that claimed several top skiers in training-run crashes earlier this week, Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer posted a time of 1 minute, 57.78 seconds to take an early lead in the Olympic women's downhill Wednesday.

Meissnitzer had the best time among the first 11 racers _ about a quarter of a way through the competition _ with Sylviane Berthod of Switzerland second fastest.

The early competition included a spectacular crash, with Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather cartwheeling into the protective netting along the course. She skied off without assistance.

Still to come were top American contender Lindsey Kildow and defending Olympic champion Carole Montillet-Carles, both of whom declared themselves ready to go just two days after crashes sent them to a hospital.

Overall World Cup leader Janica Kostelic pulled herself out of the race because she still has not fully recovered from an illness.

Kildow, who is from Vail, Colo., was discharged from the hospital Tuesday despite pain in her lower back and pelvis. She checked out the course Wednesday morning and decided she felt well enough to ski.

"She is going to go, U.S. women's coach Patrick Riml told The Associated Press. "She already went through inspection this morning and she's going to give it a go.

Montillet-Carles hurt her ribs, back and face in a crash on Monday. Lionel Finance, director of the French Alpine skiing team, said Wednesday morning that Montillet would race.

"It was she who decided to take part, even though she's not at all in perfect condition, Finance said. "She's relying on her mental strength.

Since Kildow and Montillet did not participate in Tuesday's final training run, they will have to start outside the top 30 racers.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press