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Friday, February 22, 2002
Kostelic first woman to win four medals in Games

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- The Croatian Sensation did it again.

Janica Kostelic
Janica Kostelic is only the third skier to win three golds at a single Olympics.

Janica Kostelic blew away the field in the giant slalom for her fourth Alpine medal of the Salt Lake City Games, joining Jean-Claude Killy and Toni Sailer as the only skiers with three golds at one Olympics.

The 20-year-old Croat -- who has never finished higher than fourth in a World Cup giant slalom -- became the first skier to win four Alpine medals at an Olympics, winning a medal in every event in which she competed.

"I wonder if she's human. She's the greatest right now," said silver medalist Anja Paerson of Sweden. "She's so mentally tough, nothing bothers her."

Kostelic, who also won gold in the slalom and the combined event and silver in the super giant slalom, was not considered among the favorites in the giant slalom.

But she won by a comfortable 1.32 seconds. She took a half-second lead on the morning run and could have skied conservatively and still won. Instead, she nearly tripled her margin on the second run.

Five men and four other women have won three Alpine medals at an Olympics. There were only three Alpine events until 1988, when the Super G debuted and the combined event was reintroduced after a 40-year hiatus.

"It's great, but someone is going to break that record soon. The next Olympics, maybe," Kostelic said. "I just tried to stay calm, because I had three medals before this. I had nothing to be nervous about."

Kostelic, who won Wednesday's slalom in a heavy snow on a rutty course, won the giant slalom in spring-like conditions on a well-groomed slope.

She finished the two runs in 2 minutes, 30.01 seconds. Paerson was second in 2:31.33, adding to the bronze she won in Wednesday's slalom. World champion Sonja Nef of Switzerland was third.

The top U.S. skier in Friday's race was Kristina Koznick, who finished 4.21 seconds back in 17th place.

The U.S. women were shut out of Alpine medals here for the first time since the 1988 Calgary Games. The only top-10 finish in Alpine by a U.S. woman was Lindsey Kildow's sixth place in the combined event.

Kostelic is the only Croatian to win a Winter Olympics medal, but that distinction may not last long. Her older brother, Ivica, is a favorite -- along with Bode Miller -- in the men's slalom on Saturday.

The Kostelic siblings are coached by their father, Ante, and the entire family made huge sacrifices for skiing.

Since their embattled homeland has only two small ski resorts, they traveled around Europe to compete in junior races -- often sleeping in tents or in the car, living on salami and pickle sandwiches.

In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, screams of joy came out from downtown apartments and shots were fired in the air as Kostelic won.

"It's unbelievable! She's amazing, I'm so proud of her," said Zagreb resident Nevena Morandic, wiping away tears of joy. "She's the best thing our country has."

The sharply sloping course and tight turns forced the skiers to fling their bodies from side to side as they raced down on a balmy day with temperatures in the mid-40s.

After her victory, about 20 Croats joined Kostelic for an impromptu dance in the finish area. They kneeled and formed a chorus line behind Kostelic, swaying to "That's the Way (I Like It)" over the loudspeakers.

Kostelic, who missed the first half of the World Cup season while recovering from three operations on her left knee, ranks only 30th in the giant slalom on the World Cup circuit this season. She said Friday she still has pain in her knee.

After finishing, she kissed a small Croatian flag. But that's about all the celebrating she planned to do Friday night.

"I'm tired. My body needs a good massage," Kostelic said. "I will go to sleep. I like to sleep a lot. Then I will go tomorrow to free ski in the deep snow."