Tomba, Compagnoni Set Standards Kostner is Chasing

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Santa Caterina, Italy Feb. 11 (AP by Howard Fendrich)--With the retirements the past two years of Alberto Tomba and Deborah Compagnoni, everyone has been watching to see if Isolde Kostner could keep Italy near the top of world skiing.

But Kostner isn't letting that pressure bother her _ she's feeding off it.

``With Alberto and Deborah both gone, it was clear Italy's success rate and interest in the sport would drop,'' the 24-year-old Kostner said Thursday after putting an end to a troubling slump by narrowly winning a World Cup downhill race before a sparse home crowd. ``That's extra motivation for me to keep the tradition they established going.''

RAI state television aired a report this week identifying two sports it characterized as being in deep decline in Italy: tennis, where the country has just one woman ranked in the top 50, and skiing.

``Everyone keeps saying Italian skiing is in crisis, but the results have been there for us, particularly among the women,'' Kostner said. ``I think I've been doing my part. I would love to be able to match the kinds of results Deborah had.''

Kostner clearly has a way to go.

Compagnoni, whose family runs a hotel a short walk from Thursday's finish line, was the first Alpine skier to win gold medals at three Olympics, and she won 16 World Cup races before quitting 11 months ago. Tomba retired in October 1998 with three golds and two silvers from Olympics, two golds and three bronzes from World Championships, one overall World Cup title and 50 World Cup race wins.

Kostner, by contrast, has nine career World Cup race wins, with a circuit-high four coming this season. Her top showings were a pair of bronze medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and two World Championship titles in the super-G.

By righting herself Thursday _ she had done no better than 12th place in her previous five outings _ Kostner edged closer to a couple of significant accomplishments. She extended her lead in the downhill standings to 60 points over Germany's Regina Haeusl and moved to within a point of third place in the overall World Cup rankings.

Compagnoni only won one discipline title (the giant slalom in 1997), and never finished higher than fourth overall.

``I wanted to demonstrate that I could be in front,'' Kostner said after her clocking 1 minute, 25.85 seconds beat Haeusl by two-hundredths of a second. ``I needed to reconfirm my status as a top skier.'' Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press