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Croatian's Silver Turns Him Upside Down


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February 15, 2006

SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)—When the time came for Ivica Kostelic to get his medal, he slowly made his way to the podium. On his hands.

The 26-year-old Croatian had just captured the silver in the men’s combined Tuesday, so he could be excused for having some fun.

“It was a long, long way for me, Kostelic said. “Longer than for anyone else.

Four years ago, it was Kostelic’s more-established sister, Janica, who took the same road and realized the family’s dreams, winning three gold medals and a silver at the Salt Lake City Games in Alpine skiing.

Janica pulled out of a training session with what Croatian officials said was a high pulse on Tuesday _ the day before the women’s downhill _ but she still came out to celebrate with her brother when the daylong combined race ended under the stars.

“She hugged me and she was crying really hard, more than I was, Ivica said. “She was a little sick today and she told me, ‘Today I give you my strength.’ It was a very emotional moment because only she knows more than my mom and dad how hard my path has been.

With little family money, Ivica and Janica grew up traveling to ski races in the family car with their father, Ante, staying in tents at night to save cash. The two have been plagued by injuries, and both Ivica and Janica have had 11 knee operations.

Ivica won the slalom at the 2003 world championships. The silver was his best result this season, having previously done no better than seventh in two World Cup slaloms.

He picked the toughest race in skiing for his first Olympic medal.

Skiers rise at 7 a.m. for the combined. Inspection of the downhill course is at 9:30 a.m. The downhill run begins at noon and the second of two slalom runs ends after 8:30 p.m. Doping exams for the medalists end after 10 p.m.

“It lasts forever. Usually the chairlift only runs until 4. Today it ran until 9, Ivica said. “It was really hard.

Ivica’s specialty is slalom and he was an impressive seventh in the downhill portion of the race. He moved up to second after a blistering first slalom run, ate a “hill of food before the second slalom leg and held steady in the final run of skiing’s version of the triathlon.

After Ivica’s final run, only one more skier _ Austria’s Benjamin Raich _ had a chance to beat him and Raich ended up straddling a gate.

“I wasn’t watching Benni’s race. I feel sorry for Benni because I was happy with the bronze, said Ivica, who pronounced the long day “one of the happiest days of my life.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press