February 21, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)—Back home in Croatia, Janica Kostelic's fans are calling these Olympics the "market place. It's a response to a comment Kostelic made before leaving for Italy, saying she didn't understand all the pressure to repeat her four-medal performance in Salt Lake City four years ago.
"Sure I want to win and smash records, but winning medals is not like going to the market and getting cabbage, Kostelic said.
It just seems that way.
With one gold and one silver from her two races so far, Kostelic is the most decorated female skier in Olympic history with six medals overall, and she will be a heavy favorite to add to her shopping cart in Wednesday's slalom, her best event.
"Finally I get to race in the disciplines I'm really good at, she said after winning the silver medal in Monday's super-G race, two days after winning gold in the combined.
Kostelic is the defending Olympic champion in the slalom, which she also won in the two world championships since the Salt Lake City Games.
Some others can make things difficult, though.
Austria's Marlies Schild won three straight World Cup slaloms earlier this season, and she led the slalom portion of the combined race here, finishing second to Kostelic after the delayed downhill run.
Schild's teammate Kathrin Zettel, the 2004 world junior slalom champion, was runner-up twice and third once in World Cup slaloms this season, and a third Austrian, Nicole Hosp, has also been on the slalom podium this season.
"These Austrian girls are very good, Kostelic's father and coach Ante Kostelic said. "And Anja Paerson is still here. She is not dead.[pagebreak]Paerson is the two-time defending overall World Cup champion and is still looking for her first gold medal at the Olympics. She has won two bronzes so far, adding to her silver and bronze from Salt Lake City.
Paerson won the season's opening two slaloms but did not finish three of the last four.
Paerson trails Kostelic in the overall World Cup standings this season and said repeatedly before the games that her main focus this year was the Olympics.
Kostelic said Paerson has put too much pressure on herself.
"I think the secret is that I feel just as happy whether I'm first, second or 11th. I love to ski and not take it so seriously like Anja, Kostelic said. "She needs to relax and enjoy her skiing to get rid of the cramps she has, to take it less personally.
Paerson took the bronze medal behind Kostelic's slalom gold four years ago. France's Laure Pequegnot finished seven-hundredths of a second behind Kostelic to win the silver.
At 30, Pequegnot has not registered a podium result in three seasons, but she still feels confident.
"The Olympics make me feel excited. When I was young I used to play Olympics in my garden, Pequegnot said. "I dream about the Olympics, not the World Cup.
Kristina Koznick is the top medal hope for the American team, although she may not be 100 percent after partially tearing ligaments in her right knee the week before the Olympics.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press