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Top 25 Skiers: Kristina Koznick

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SKIING’s interview with Kristina Koznick, one of North America’s top 25 skiers.

Name: Kristina Koznick

Age: 25

Age when you started skiing: Four

Hometown hill: Buck Hill, Minnesota: “It’s in the city, a freeway runs below it.”

Current ski mountain: “Still Buck Hill — I still live in Minnesota.”

Claim to fame: Has over 20 World Cup top-10 finishes, including four slalom wins. A four-time U.S. slalom champ and America’s top slalom racer, she recently added GS to the mix.

How’s the season going? “With GS, I’m right on track. My goal has been to be more consistent in GS. Slalom got off to a slow start in Park City she finished 12th. I was disappointed. I know I’m one of the best slalom skiers in the world. Twelfth place was hard to swallow. But I’m happy about the third place in Aspen. So I’m really excited.”

Do you have any good luck charms? “I carry Grover everywhere with me. You know, the blue monster from Sesame Street? I don’t go anywhere without him. He watches over me. He’s my good luck charm. He’s had a couple of incidents where he’s gone missing for a few hours. In France, he got thrown in with the sheets at a hotel. We were saying to the maids in French ‘blue monster.'”

Favorite drink: “Margarita, no question.”

Meal you’d ask for on your deathbed: Grilled salmon and asparagus.

Music: “I like a Minnesota band called Bobby Llama. No heavy metal. No rap. I like hip hop and top 40.”

Car: Audi A4 sedan, pearl colored.

Last book: Worst Fears Realized,by Stuart Woods — “It’s a murder mystery.”

Ski hero: “Tamara McKinney — Everything I’d ever heard of her has been becoming and good. That’s how she is. I respect her. She’s really good at what she did and she’s down to earth. You can sit and talk to her. I’ve strived since I was little to be like her. I really appreciate humble athletes.”

Ever been in a ski movie? “No ski movies.”

What are your thoughts on freeskiing? “I love watching freeskiers and extremes skiers. I didn’t grow up freeskiing at all. It was gates after gates after gates. I’m not a big fan of freeskiing, myself. I’m totally in love with racing. When I put my skis on, what I crave is gates, not jumping off a cliff. Ski racing is what I crave when I put on my skis.”

When you’re not on snow, what do you like to do? “I love to draw and do photography. It lets me use my brain in other ways. I use charcoal and pencils and colored markers. I draw what I see. Landscapes, still lifes sometimes.”

Are you any good? “I’m okay, I guess. I don’t think any of my work would sell for much.”

You recently broke off from the U.S. Ski Team and went independent. What happened? “I went independent in the spring. I had a couple of meetings with the Ski Team. I said, ‘I’m fifth in the world in slalom and I want to be first. Let’s individualize this and change this…’ And the Ski Team said they believed in the program the way it is. There would be nothing special or individualized for me. I had to make a decision. It isn’t my first choice by any means. To go on your own in ski racing is not an ideal situation. The next few years are make or break for me. I had to make decisions to do what would make me be successful.”

How did the Ski Team take it? “I think they’re pretty upset. Especially after Aspen, now that there are more results on paper. I’m hoping eventually I can work things out with the Ski Team. Hopefully in the future, we can work things out.”

So how’s the independent life? “Everything is different. Dan Stripp makes all of the arrangements. We book our own hotel, car rental, food. All of it is up to me. The Ski Team isn’t funding it at all. They enter me in the races. I have to wear the U.S. Ski Team uniform, and all the sponsor logos, but I’m not being supported by those sponsors. I also can’t take on sponsors in certain categories, and that’s frustrating. The Ski Team is sponsored by Chevy, so if Ford came to me and said they wanted to sponsor me, I couldn’t do it. Categories are blocked. I have to swallow things along the way, but this is the decision I made. If it means I have to pay for stuff, and eat at McDonalds along the way, that’s okay.”

So you’re footing the bill, but you’ll still be viewed as an American racer. How do you feel about that? “I want to be a U.S. athlete. I don’t want to represent anyone else. I’m proud of where I come from, and I want my gold in the Olympics to be for the U.S.”

Dan Stripp was your coach. He got fired, you went independent, and now he’s your coach and boyfriend. What happened? “Depends on who you ask. I’ve had 16 different coaches in 10 years. I didn’t click with most of them. When Dan came on the staff, he earned my respect and vice-versa. We were best friends for two years. We had an awesome coach-athlete relationship. Off the hill we were together all the time. We weren’t dating then. The Ski Team has a rule: No athlete-coach relationships. Then he was let go this spring and I was really upset. The official word was that he was a ‘negative influence on the team dynamic.’ If you talk to the girls, I don’t think anyone would say that. We started dating this summer. Now Dan is my boyfriend. I had to convince him to coach me.”

What are your goals for 2002? “I’ve been through the Olympics once, so I have the experience under my belt. I want a gold medal in slalom. And a top three in GS. Lofty goals, but I think they’re attainable.”