Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Kostelic gets one rest day

WORLD CUP SKIING Poor conditions caused organizers to hold off competition for a day, which gave Croation speed demon Janica Kostelic extra time to get healed

AP , MARIBOR, SLOVENIA

Janica Kostelic of Croatia clears a pole during the first run of the fifth World Cup women's slalom competition in Maribor, Slovenia, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Janica Kostelic got another day to nurse her swollen right hand before she resumes her quest to beat Sweden's Anja Paerson for the overall World Cup title.

A giant slalom race in Maribor, Slovenia, was canceled Saturday because warm weather led to the snow being dangerously soft. Organizers are hoping to fix the course in time for a Sunday slalom.

"It's OK, I can ski with this hand," Kostelic said. "My hand is pretty good -- better than yesterday. I can hold the pole now."

Kostelic's hand is still being rubbed with salves to reduce swelling after she got hurt during Thursday's slalom in Zagreb.

There, Kostelic thrilled her home crowd of 25,000 by finishing third despite losing her pole and glove at the start of the second run. She could barely move her fingers after her bare hand slapped the gates all the way down.

Kostelic, who leads the standings ahead of longtime rival Paerson, is already looking ahead to the Winter Olympics, starting Feb. 10, but the Croat isn't predicting a repeat of the 2002 games in Salt Lake City where she claimed three golds.

"My goal this time is one gold medal," Kostelic said.

Kostelic has 652 points in the overall standings, compared with Paerson's 585. The Swede won the season honors last year, edging her rival by three points.

In the giant slalom standings, Paerson has a 285 to 270 lead over Kostelic with three races left in the discipline before the Olympics.

Rain over the past few days, along with rising temperatures, led to the soft snow on Saturday. Despite some protests, many racers agreed the conditions were too risky.

They included Lindsey Kildow, the American leading the downhill standings. She posted a career-best ninth in giant slalom last year in Maribor.

"I was really looking forward to the race, because I know I can do well on this hill," Kildow said. "But I really wouldn't want to compromise my health by racing in conditions like today."

Organizers said the giant slalom may be rescheduled at another World Cup event. They hope the snow on the Snezni slope can be hardened enough to hold Sunday's slalom. Among other methods, they will water the slope and hope it freezes.

"Tomorrow's slalom is going to be icy," said Filip Gartner, the world skiing body's snow inspector.

The American team can now concentrate on the slalom first. The giant slalom has been the squad's weakest discipline this year.

Austria's Benjamin Raich recovered from a late mistake to win the final World Cup giant slalom before next month's Turin Olympics and overtake Daron Rahlves atop the overall standings.

Raich completed the treacherous Chuenisbaergli course Saturday in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 23.25 seconds for his second straight World Cup giant slalom victory.

"I reached a major goal of mine today," said Raich, who won last month at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. "It's a dream come true. It's a classic and a victory means a lot on such a difficult course."

Raich was fastest in the opening leg and was leading at the final split on the second run, but appeared to blow his lead when he braked at the final breakover, coming to a near stop before attacking the following gate.

However, the technical expert relaunched and crossed 0.49 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger, Fredrik Nyberg of Sweden.

"It was a tough mistake but luckily it was on one of steepest part of course, so I didn't lose momentum and I could regain speed immediately," Raich said. "There was no time to think and I didn't lose momentum. I was also lucky to have a big enough advantage in the first leg."

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