St. Anton, Austria Feb. 2, 2001(AP by Nesha Starcevic)--With her rivals slipping and crashing, Germany's Martina Ertl completed a comeback from a serious injury by winning the women's combined Friday at the world championships.
``It's really a fairy tale for me,'' said Ertl, who partially tore ligaments in her right knee a month ago. ``A great day for me. ... I never thought I could win.''
Leaders Renate Goetschl of Austria and Caroline Lalive of the United States failed to finish the second slalom run. Janica Kostelic, the sensational 19-year-old Croatian, fell in the first run.
``I'm in a state of shock that I am down here and disappointed,'' Lalive said. ``It's a lot of pressure to be a medal contender at the world championship. We always say it's not a big deal, but it is.''
Another American, Kirsten Clark, led after the downhill run. But she is not proficient in the gate race and dropped back to eighth place.
This marked the third straight event of the world championships that the top favorites finished without a medal.
In the combined, the winner is determined by adding the two slalom run times to the morning's downhill time.
Ertl won the combined silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. This was her third world championship medal in eight years and the first gold. She won a pair of bronze medals in 1993 and 1996 in the giant slalom and the 1994 Olympic silver in that event.
``I just went out and let the skis run,'' Ertl said. ``I know sport is not everything, but you wish for something like this and it's wonderful when it happens.''
Ertl had a blistering second run and took the gold with a total time of 2 minutes, 55.65 seconds. Christine Sponring, a 17-year-old Austrian, won the silver in 2:58.23 and Karen Putzer of Italy earned the bronze in 2:59.69.
``I never even thought about a medal,'' said Sponring, a relatively unknown skier. ``It's completely crazy.''
Lalive, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., missed a gate when her inner ski slipped. She got back on the course, passed one more gate and then went out. She had been in second position before the second run.
Goetschl, who won a silver medal two years ago in Vail, Colo., and the gold four years ago, led Lalive by .79 seconds before the second run. But the Austrian, who won the overall World Cup title last season, straddled a gate to end her race.
Ertl had been 1.02 seconds off Goetschl's place but she surged through the evening run.
Kostelic's fall was a startling setback for the 19-year-old Croatian who was coming off a nine-race winning streak in the slalom.
Kostelic leads the World Cup standings after sweeping the seven slalom races earlier this season. She also won the last two slalom events of the previous season when she came back after shattering knee ligaments in December 1999 and won the only previous combined event this season.
But she lost control of her inside ski and fell on the icy course.
``My skis just flew in the air. It can happen,'' she said. ``I'm not disappointed, life goes on. Crying changes nothing. It'd be stupid to cry. ... It's better that it happened here and not at a World Cup race.''
Kostelic has said a gold medal is secondary to winning the overall World Cup title from Goetschl.
In the final practice for the men's downhill, Daron Rahlves of the United States, the super-G winner, led Austrian superstar and defending champion Hermann Maier.
``The conditions are tough,'' Rahlves said. ``Tomorrow is going to be a good race but a tough one. It's a good confidence boost today. I'll just take tomorrow's race and hopefully back up what I did in the super-G. I'm ready.''
In the final practice for the women's downhill Sunday, Isolde Kostner of Italy was first, followed by Regine Cavagnoud of France. Megan Gerety of the United States, fourth in the super-G, was third.
``I'm a little afraid of the Americans,'' Kostner saiid. ``Especially Megan Gerety.''
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