Val d'Isere, France Dec. 16, 2001 (AP by Michael McDonough)--For eight years, Sonja Nef underwent regular surgery to treat a knee she injured in a junior competition.
During that time, she had six operations and only one victory in a World Cup race.
Now, at age 29, the Swiss skier is making up for lost time.
Last season, she dominated the giant slalom with six World Cup wins _ five in a row _ and added the World Cup title to her world championship crown.
On Sunday, she got her first victory of the season, signaling her readiness to chase Olympic gold at Salt Lake City.
``Nef is the favorite to win Olympic gold,'' Austrian rival Michaela Dorfmeister said.
She won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but has since trailed Nef in the discipline.
It's not only the 5-foot-4 skier's technical skill that has Dorfmeister worried, but her fierce determination.
After her last operation in 1996, Nef was advised to give up ski racing to protect her knee. She ignored the recommendation, although she could train only for two or three days at a time and had to practice on top quality snow.
The hard work paid off. Since 1999, Nef has won 11 World Cup races, 10 of them in the giant slalom. Last season was her best.
This season began slowly in comparison, with second- and third-place finishes in the opening two giant slaloms. But her victory Sunday, thanks to an unbeaten second run, erased any doubts about her form.
``I have shown what I am capable of doing,'' Nef said. ``I was very pleased with my second and third places, but today I'm delighted.''
Nef has never won an Olympic medal, but her eyes will be set on gold in the Salt Lake Games.
``I would like to be the best in the Olympics and keep the World Cup leader's red jersey,'' Nef said. ``An Olympic gold medal on the red jersey would be ideal.''
Her injured knee shouldn't be a problem. She said it was painful during the autumn, but has improved thanks to regular treatment.
However, she will face tough competition from Dorfmeister, who leads the overall World Cup standings and is second in the giant slalom.
Another skier to beat is 20-year-old Swede Anja Paerson. She took silver Sunday, and was second last season in the giant slalom standings. XtremeSports
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