Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Kostelic has tough time before Italy

WORLD CUP SKIING Janica Kostelic is favored to add to her golds in giant slalom, combined and slalom from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games while in Turin this year

AP , BAD KLEINKIRCHHEIM, AUSTRIA

Janica Kostelic of Croatia during her training run for the World Cup downhill race in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria on Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

Janica Kostelic finished in second place in qualifying for a women's World Cup downhill Thursday, a place the three-time Olympic champion wanted to avoid.

Swiss skier Sylviane Berthod was first in 1 minute, 38.09 seconds, while Kostelic was another .44 seconds back. Sweden's Nike Bent and Switzerland's Nadia Styger were tied for third in 1:38.58.

"Will someone tell me what I did," Kostelic said. "I skied so bad the past two days. I didn't do anything differently today. I have no idea."

The tour's overall leader will start 29th since the race will be run in reverse order of the top 30 finishers. Some skiers believe Thursday and Friday's downhills will favor those who start in the middle of the pack, not those out of the gate early or late.

The heavy snow lining at the Franz Klammer slope may get faster after the early starters, then develop ruts to handicap later skiers.

Linsdey Kildow, seeking her third straight downhill win, earned an early start -- second out of the gates -- after landing just 29th. The American tops the discipline standings, followed by Austrians Michaela Dorfmeister and Alexandra Meissnitzer.

Meissnitzer was delighted with her 11th place.

"I will start around 20th -- that's perfect. That's exactly where I want to be," the Austrian said.

Skiers said the new slope was slow and flat at the top and they had to find speed themselves, which is unusual for a downhill. Since the last World Cup races held in 1997 at Bad Kirchkleinheim, the course has been redesigned.

Kostelic refuses to dwell on the upcoming Olympics, where the Croat has to live up to expectations raised by three golds from the last games.

"I don't think about it so much, I just try to ignore it," Kostelic said. "But you can't ignore it -- when you are alone in your room it comes into your mind."

Whether it is Kostelic, her longtime World Cup rival Anja Paerson, or promising 21-year-old Stacey Cook, the women skiers feel the pressure building ahead of the Turin Games, which begin Feb. 10.

Kostelic is favored to add to her golds in giant slalom, combined and slalom from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, especially after another three-gold performance at last year's world championships.

The Croat won't undertake special preparations for Turin, just concentrate on the World Cup circuit, where she leads the overall standings.

"I look at it this way, I try to do one race at a time," she said. "The races are the best way to prepare."

That was also Alexandra Meissnitzer's philosophy as the women ready themselves for two World Cup downhills and a Super-G this weekend in Bad Kleinkirchheim.

"Just go fast in the races -- that is the best way to gain confidence," Meissnitzer said.

Meissnitzer is the best downhiller this year behind Lindsey Kildow and Michaela Dorfmeister. Her three top-four finishes sealed the veteran's Olympic berth -- not easy on the powerful Austrian team.

Now, Meissnitzer can relax as she thinks about an Olympic medal.

"The pressure is off me now," Meissnitzer said. "I would like to win a medal, but everyone wants a medal."

Cook, the talented American newcomer, still has to earn her spot at the games on the US team, the best behind Austria.

"You don't have to feel the pressure if you don't want to," Cook said of the Olympics. "But it's hard to ignore it -- it's just such a big deal."

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