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PARK CITY, Utah (Feb. 22) – Croatian Janica Kostelic wrapped up her 2002 Olympic Winter Games campaign with a historic fourth medal Friday as she won gold in the women’s giant slalom at Park City Mountain Resort.
The giant slalom was the final women’s alpine race of the Games.
Kostelic won with a two-run combined time of 2:30.01, 1.32 ahead of the next closest competitor. Sweden’s Anja Paerson won the silver medal in 2:31.33 and Swiss skier Sonja Nef took bronze with a time of 2:31.67.
The top American finisher was Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, Minn.), who placed 17th, out of the 18th start spot, with a time of 2:34.22. Sarah Schleper (Vail, Colo.) finished 21st (2:35.96), Kirsten Clark (Raymond, Maine) was 26th (2:36.42) and Alex Shaffer (Park City, Utah) was 28th (2:37.38). Shaffer came out of the 40th start position.
Kostelic, who has been on fire since the Games began, laid down a smoking first run and followed that up with an equally hot second run, making it near impossible for anyone to catch her. She had the two fastest runs of the day with a 1:16.00 in her first and a 1:14.01 in her second.
“First, I didn’t have any pressure,” said Kostelic. “Maybe that was it, because I felt really relaxed, especially after my first medal. I had a good run. Both runs were good. I didn’t’ expect to be good in the second run because usually I blow up in one run, but I heard that Sonja and Anja had a good run, so I had to do my best.”
For Kostelic, it was her fourth medal of these Games, which includes three golds. She won the combined (slalom and downhill) and slalom events and took silver in the super G.
Friday’s gold medal has some history attached to it as Kostelic joined France’s Jean-Claude Killy and Austrian Toni Sailer as the only athletes to have ever won three gold medals in a single Olympics. Kostelic is also the first alpine skier to win four Olympic medals in a single Games.
“It’s great, but, you know, someone is going to break that record soon,” said Kostelic. “These next Olympics, maybe.”
On this season’s World Cup circuit, Kostelic has yet to ski a giant slalom. She is ranked 17th on the overall points list as she has skied just one slalom (3rd) and one combined event (2nd). She was the overall World Cup champion last season, but her best career GS finish has been two fourths, one coming in Park City in 1998.
“I haven’t skied GS,” said Kostelic. “The last three weeks, I’ve had like two or three days of GS training.”
On the other hand, Nef entered the race as the World Cup giant slalom points leader. She has recorded five podium finishes, including two victories, on the tour this season. Paerson came into Friday’s race in fifth place in the World Cup standings.
Austrian Alexandra Meissnitzer and Spain’s Maria Jose Rienda Contreras, who were in second and third, respectively, following the first run, fell out of contention in the second run. Paerson was fourth and Nef was sixth after the opening run.
For the U.S., Koznick and Clark, who is primarily a speed skier, have the team’s best World Cup GS results of the season. Koznick finished ninth in Are, Sweden, while Clark was also ninth at Copper Mountain, Colo. Schleper was the top U.S. skier in GS points in 20th place.
“I was definitely going for it more this time because I had nothing to lose,” said Clark. “But then I went down on my thigh (during her 2nd run), a typical lean. I was going to quit, but then I was like ‘the gate’s right there,’ so I kept going.” “I feel terrible,” said Clark, who also raced the downhill and super G during the Games. “It was a disappointing Olympics for me. I felt like I was capable of walking away with a medal, but it just didn’t work out. It’s the Olympics, it’s home soil, but it didn’t work out.”
“It was a little bit a repeat of St. Anton (2001 World Championships), where if you don’t get a medal first, in the speed events, where you really have a chance, then the screw tightens every day justt a little bit more,” said U.S. coach Marjan Cernigoj.
“What disappointed me at the end was the fear of failure overcame the desire for success, and that’s what you saw today,” said Cernigoj.
The final Alpine event of the Olympic Winter Games is the men’s slalom on Saturday at Deer Valley Resort (10 a.m.). Bode Miller (Franconia, N.H.), who has won two silvers thus far (combined and giant slalom) looks for another medal in his strongest event.
2002 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES
February 22, 2002
Women’s Giant Slalom
Park City, Utah
1. Janica Kostelic, Croatia (2:30.01)
2. Anja Paerson, Sweden (2:31.33)
3. Sonja Nef, Switzerland (2:31.67)
17. Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, Minn. (2:34.22)
21. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo. (2:35.96)
26. Kirsten Clark, Raymond, Maine (2:36.42)
28. Alex Shaffer, Park City, Utah (2:37.38)