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Aspen, CO, Nov. 25, 2001–Ivica Kostelic, brother of Croatian skiing great Janica Kostelic, stunned the competition with his first World Cup triumph Sunday in the season-opening men’s slalom.
Kostelic, whose career had been stalled by four serious knee injuries since 1998, had never finished better than 21st. He skied out of the 64th position in the first run, then was fastest in the second run to win in 1 minute, 38.81 seconds.
This was the latest starting position for a slalom winner and second-latest in any event in World Cup history.
Giorgio Rocca of Italy was second in 1:38.93. Reigning world slalom champion Mario Matt of Austria finished third in 1:39.00.
The course, with fresh snow atop a soft man-made base, became more difficult as the afternoon wore on.
Still, Kostelic maneuvered down the Aspen Mountain course in 49.31 seconds on his second run to move from a tie for seventh after the first run into the lead.
He had moved into contention with a first-run time of 49.5 seconds despite starting near the end of the 75-man field. The 22-year-old Croatian trains with his sister, the reigning World Cup overall champion and 12-time World Cup winner who is recovering from a knee injury.
“We train together all the time,” Kostelic said. “She has the advantage that she’s training with a man, like no other girls have. I have the advantage that I’m training with a world champion.”
Visibility deteriorated through the afternoon as a major storm swept in. A heavy snow was falling when the second run began, and forecasters predicted as much as a foot of snow overnight, which could threaten Monday’s slalom.
For the first time since the World Cup doubled the number of first-run qualifiers to 30 a decade ago, the United States advanced three skiers to the second run. But they ran into trouble on the second run.
Erik Schlopy of Park City, Utah, America’s best slalom skier, was 18th after the first run, but he slipped and fell early in his second run. He got back up and finished the run but had the slowest combined time of 1:44.16 to finish 26th.
Bode Miller, with a reputation for recklessness, qualified 24th after starting in the 53rd position in the opening run. He was having an extremely fast second run when he skidded off course a few gates from the finish. He also regrouped to finish 25th.
Hometown favorite Casey Puckett of Aspen, seeking to compete in his fourth Winter Olympics, was the top U.S. finisher in 14th at 1:40.53.
Rocca, skiing in the event once owned by his countryman Alberto Tomba, skied out of 26th position in the first run to earn his highest World Cup finish.
The powerful Austrian team had a tough day. Matt led after the first run but faded to third with a 50.35 second run. No other Austrian finished better than 19th.
Five Austrians slid off the course, four in the first run and one in the second.
The first-run casualties included Thomas Sykora, the Olympic bronze medalist in the slalom in 1998. He was competing in his first World Cup race in three years because of injuries.
The two slalom races Sunday and Monday are the only men’s World Cup events in the United States this season. A giant slalom race scheduled for Saturday at Aspen was canceled last week because warm weather and a lack of snow made it impossible to prepare the course.
The men’s downhill and super-G races planned for Beaver Creek on Dec. 1 and 2 also were called off because of the warm weather.