Kostelic Defends Worlds Combined, Kildow Fourth

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February 4, 2005

SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)--Olympic champion Janica Kostelic capped a remarkable comeback from illness and injury, successfully defending her combined title Friday by beating Anja Paerson at the world championships.

Kostelic, who had her thyroid gland removed last season and underwent several knee operations, completed the morning downhill leg and the two afternoon slalom runs in a combined time of 2 minutes, 53.70 seconds.

``My first slalom run was so-so,'' the Croat said. ``But, second run, I gave everything I had.''

Paerson, close to Kostelic all day, took the silver in 2:55.15. The Swede won Sunday's super giant slalom. Marlies Schild of Austria won the bronze in 2:56.40, followed by Lindsey Kildow of the United States.

Schild was 19th after the downhill but climbed to fourth after the opening slalom. She then moved into third after Kildow was unable to maintain her position. Kildow was third after the downhill and first slalom leg, but the speed specialist dropped a spot and finished in 2:56.60.

Paerson, the defending overall World Cup champion, and Kostelic, the 2002-03 overall winner, began their careers as technical specialists. The Swede remains better known for her strength in the technical events but has rapidly progressed in the speed races since adding them to her program last season.

Kostelic collected three gold medals at the Salt Lake City Olympics where she won the slalom, giant slalom and combined. However, Kostelic has been slowly returning to form after missing last season through illness and injury.

Her best World Cup slalom result this season was second place in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Kostelic skipped the super-G event last weekend to prepare for the combined.

Kostelic won the combined at the 2003 worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland. No World Cup combined races were staged last season.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press