July 12, 2006
EAGAN, MN - (USST News Release) - Three-time Olympian and six-time World Cup slalom winner Kristina Koznick (Eagan, MN) has announced her retirement after more than a decade of World Cup ski racing.
Koznick, 30, ends her career as one of the most successful American female ski racers of all time - third in number of victories behind Tamara McKinney (18 wins) and Picabo Street (9), and tied with Cindy Nelson, another Minnesota Olympian and ski racing icon, at six. In addition to her six World Cup wins, Koznick had 14 other top-3 finishes and a whopping total of 54 top-10s during her 14 years on the circuit. She also won five U.S. slalom championships, featuring a streak of four straight from 1995-98, and eight national junior titles.
"Kristina had some incredible results in slalom," said U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt. "Twice she finished the season ranked second in the World Cup slalom standings and top-10 in the overall standings ('98, '02). She really put us on the map in slalom in recent years, which was a major contribution for us."
Koznick's contributions included consistent performances at the international level, where she competed on six U.S. World Championships teams and was the top U.S. female World Cup slalom points earner for 11 seasons - from 1995-2005.
Koznick was aware of her standing as the preeminent U.S. slalom skier during the last decade, she said, and one career goal was to overtake McKinney, the 1989 World Championships combined gold medalist who also won slalom bronze at three Worlds and nine World Cup slaloms. However, in her trademark low-key style, she conceded, "I see a little more about what I didn't achieve and maybe as time goes on I'll see what I did achieve. I mean, I know I was the top U.S. slalom skier over 10 years, so that says a lot about my career, but it hasn't sunk in...yet.
"Any athlete wants to be better, and to do better, and I'm still in that frame of mind. I haven't gotten to the point of reflecting. Maybe after a year and I can see from a distance," she said. "Over the last couple of years people have told me, 'Y'know, you're one of the best skiers Americans have ever had.' And I'd say, 'You sure?' I hope it soaks in some day. It's certainly something to be proud of, but it just hasn't sunk in, maybe because this (retirement) is still so fresh for me."
She hopes to stay involved in skiing at some level - possibly coaching, TV commentary or writing, among other options - and added, "I know I accomplished a lot, but when you're living it, it's hard to see it sometimes." At the same time, she recalled her mixed emotions while growing up and seeing the poor behavior of some champion athletes. She wanted to be a winner, but, Koznick told her mother, "'I don't want to be like them - they don't seem so nice...' Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't accomplish all my goals. But if I had to choose between achieving my goals and being who I am - being approachable, being down to Earth - I'm glad I stayed who I am."
Koznick had said last December that the 2006 season would be her last, but after the pre-Olympic injury sustained in training Feb. 4 in Ofterschwang, Germany, there had been some speculation she might try to return for the '07 season. Then came yet another knee injury - a partial tear in her right knee - which limited her to one run of slalom at the Torino Winter Games.
She rehabbed daily through the spring and early summer, preparing to possibly return to World Cup racing. But, in the end, as she and longtime personal coach Dan Stripp plan their wedding in September, Koznick reflected on her goals and career and decided she would retire.
"It was a really hard decision," she said Tuesday from her home in suburban Minneapolis. "Truthfully, I could ski race until I'm 50; I love the racing part. But, on the inside, every time I go home, or stop and have a moment to myself, something tells me, 'Maybe it's time to move on.'"Life's too short. I can't hold onto something because I didn't achieve all my goals. It doesn't mean I was going to achieve them just because I hung around."
Koznick, who came out of Erich Sailer's renowned gate-running program at Buck Hill in the Twin Cities, made her debut as a 15-year-old at the 1991 World Cup Finals at Waterville Valley, NH, She first competed in the J2 Junior Olympics at New Hampshire's Sunapee Ski Area then headed to the J1 JOs in Lake Placid, NY - with a brief detour to the make her World Cup entrance, finishing a split-second out of the top 30 in the first run of a slalom. Two years later she was on the U.S. Ski Team for the '03 season. A torn ligament in her left knee erased her 1994 season, eliminating the chance to compete in the Lillehammer Olympics.
Koznick and Stripp will be moving to Vail, CO, where Stripp will start a new job next month as a juniors coach for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Their small wedding will take place in Las Vegas at the home of Koznick's father, Jeff.