February 17, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Bob Baum)—Defending Olympic champion Janica Kostelic made her Turin Games debut with a strong first slalom run Friday night in the women's Alpine combined after gusty winds postponed the event's downhill race earlier in the day.
It was the first chance at these Olympics for the Croatian, who has been ill, to measure herself against rival Anja Paerson of Sweden.
Kostelic finished with the second-fastest time, just ahead of Paerson, who tied for third.
The leader was Austrian slalom specialist Marlies Schild, who finished in 38.39 seconds. Schild's strong showing was no surprise _ the 23-year-old Austrian won three consecutive World Cup slaloms this season.
American Lindsey Kildow, skiing with a hip bruised during a nasty fall earlier in the week, was 11th, 1.47 seconds back. Resi Stiegler was the top U.S. skier, in seventh place after the first run.
Chemmy Alcott, Britain's top skier who was 11th in Wednesday's downhill, was disqualified for using equipment that violated International Ski Federation rules. Another seven of the 45 skiers on the start list were not able to finish the course. Alcott was disqualified because the width of her ski at the binding exceeded 60mm.
The combined event includes two parts: Two evening slalom legs and one downhill run.
The downhill was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon after gusting wind smacked the first downhill skier to the snow in nearby San Sicario. Flipping the order of an Olympic combined to the slalom before the downhill happened once before, in the men's event at the storm-tossed 1998 Nagano Games.
The need for a postponement was clear before the first downhill racer had completed her run.[pagebreak]The wind caught the skis of Nika Fleiss on the course's first jump, sending her skidding on her back. The Croatian scrambled to her feet and skied down, but race officials huddled and minutes later announced the postponement.
As well as being unsafe, the gusts could have made the competition unfair _ while wind might have been a factor for some skiers, it might have subsided for others.
"It's been such a mess today, Stiegler said. "It's really hard to focus. There's so much going on.
Wind persisted into the evening, but wasn't nearly such a factor in the slower, turn-heavy slalom.
It didn't appear to hamper Kostelic, who is ranked first in the World Cup circuit in slalom and combined. The 24-year-old Croatian won the downhill gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, one of her record four medals in those games, but withdrew from the event Wednesday because of a high pulse.
Skiing in front of a large and loud contingent waving Croatian flags and a banner reading "Janica in handwritten letters, Kostelic sashayed down the course from one edge of her skis to the other. She skied past reporters without talking so she could prepare for the second run.
The first run featured several fashion statements by the U.S. team.
Julia Mancuso, who was 10th, wore a tiara instead of a helmet, as she often does.
"She's a princess, said teammate Kaylin Richardson, who stood in 18th place. "She's just crazy.
Stiegler didn't wear her trademark tiger ears, explaining that a U.S. Ski Team official told her she wasn't allowed. Instead, she settled for what appeared to be a pearl necklace.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press