Santa Canterina, Italy Feb. 10 (AP Howard Fendrich)--Italy's Isolde Kostner stormed down the bottom portion of the course today to narrowly capture her third downhill victory of the World Cup season and first since mid-December.
The double bronze medalist at the 1994 Olympics clocked 1 minute, 25.85 seconds on the tree-lined Cevedale piste. Germany's Regina Haeusl, second to Kostner in the downhill season standings, finished just two-thousandths of a second back.
Corrine Rey Bellet of Switzerland was third in 1:25.90.
Kostner has had a bad lower back for nearly two weeks, and an acknowledged case of nerves since last month's downhill in Altenmarkt, Austria, where she nearly fell coming out of a jump.
But she overcame a tentative start to today's race _ the 24-year-old was slower than 23 other women through the first intermediary time check _ by mastering the straighter later stages.
It was the kind of boost Kostner needed with only about a month to go before the World Cup finals in nearby Bormio. She finished 19th, 19th, 13th and 24th in her previous four outings.
``I wanted to demonstrate that I could be in front. I needed to reconfirm my status as a top skier,'' said Kostner, winner of the season's first two downhills, plus one super-G race.
``Certainly the bottom of the course was better for me today, because the curves were long and wide. I didn't ski well at the top, but I picked up time later.''
Kostner's four race wins this season are one shy of her career total.
Starting 10th, Kostner watched closely as Haeusl, who went down the hill next, charged through the first two-thirds of the race in 0.09 of a second faster. Rey Bellet reached the same point a half-second quicker than Kostner, but both challengers faded.
``I went into the curves at the top too quickly and had to ease up a little,'' Kostner said. ``That definitely cost me there.''
She said her back felt the best is has since she aggravated an old lower disk injury 13 days ago.
``This morning was the first time I washed my face with both hands,'' Kostner said with a laugh. ``I've had to use one hand to lean on the sink, because I couldn't stand upright in the morning.''
Germany's Martina Ertl was fourth, in 1:26.02, while overall World Cup standings leader Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria finished fifth with a time of 1:26.05.
Kostner must now be considered among the favorites for Friday's super-G race. She took that title at the 1996 and 1997 world championships, and is currently second to Renate Goetschl in the super-G season standings.
There is also a slalom here Saturday.
Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press