World Cup skiing makes stop in Aspen

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2001

ASPEN, Colo. -- There is another World Cup champion in the Kostelic family now.

Ivica Kostelic, brother of skiing great Janica Kostelic, stunned the competition with his first World Cup triumph Sunday in the season-opening men's slalom.

Kostelic's career had been stalled by four serious knee injuries since 1998. The 22-year-old Croatian had never finished better than 21st in a World Cup event.

He skied out of the 64th position in the first run, then was fastest in the second run to win in 1 minute, 38.81 seconds.

It was the latest starting position for a slalom winner in World Cup history and third latest in any event.

''I feel like I'm still in a dream, that tomorrow is the race,'' said Kostelic, who speaks English perfectly. ''But it looks like it's real. It looks like I won.''

Giorgio Rocca of Italy was second in 1:38.93. Reigning world slalom champion Mario Matt of Austria finished third in 1:39.00.

The course, with fresh snow atop a soft man-made base, became more difficult as the afternoon wore on.

Still, Kostelic maneuvered down Aspen Mountain in 49.31 seconds on his second run to move from a tie for seventh after the first run into the lead.

He had moved into contention with a first-run time of 49.5 seconds despite starting near the end of the 75-man field. He trains with his sister, the reigning World Cup overall champion and 12-time World Cup winner who is recovering from a knee injury.

He won on the same mountain where his sister won.

earned one of her 10 victories last season. Their mother, Marisa Kostelic, was among those cheering him on.

''We like Aspen,'' she said. ''Last year it's my daughter. This year it's my son.''

In between runs, Kostelic got a call from his sister in Austria.

''She was actually screaming into the mobile phone so I didn't understand her,'' he said.

Kostelic has undergone four major knee operations, the first just before the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the latest last Jan. 31 -- three on the right knee and one on the left.

He trains with his sister and said she has been a great example for him..

''Janica's a great fighter,'' he said. ''I think mentally she is the strongest in the World Cup, not only for the women but for the men. It's a natural talent.''

Visibility deteriorated through the afternoon as a major storm swept in. A heavy snow was falling when the second run began, and forecasters predicted as much as a foot of snow overnight, which could threaten Monday's slalom.

For the first time since the World Cup doubled the number of first-run qualifiers to 30 a decade ago, the United States advanced three skiers to the second run. But they ran into trouble on the second run.

Erik Schlopy of Park City, Utah, America's best slalom skier, was 18th after the first run, but he slipped and fell early in his second run. He got back up and finished the run but had the slowest combined time of 1:44.16 to finish 25th.

Bode Miller, with a reputation for recklessness, qualified 24th after starting in the 53rd position in the opening run. He was having an extremely fast second run when he skidded off course a few gates from the finish. He regrouped to finish but was disqualified for missing a gate.

''Of course I'm disappointed,'' Schlopy said. ''But at the same time, I think it helps kick me into the gear I need for the World Cup right now.''

Hometown favorite Casey Puckett of Aspen, seeking to compete in his fourth Winter Olympics, was the top U.S. finisher in 14th at 1:40.53.

Rocca, skiing in the event once owned by countryman Alberto Tomba, skied out of 26th position in the first run to earn his highest World Cup finish.

The powerful Austrian team had a tough day. Matt led after the first run but faded to third. No other Austrian finished better than 19th. Five Austrians slid off the course, four in the first run and one in the second.

The first-run casualties included Thomas Sykora, the Olympic bronze medalist in the slalom in 1998. He was competing in his first World Cup race in three years because of injuries.

The two slalom races Sunday and Monday are the only men's World Cup events in the United States this season. A giant slalom race scheduled for Saturday at Aspen was canceled last week because of warm weather and lack of snow.

The men's downhill and super G races planned for Beaver Creek Dec. 1 and 2 also were called off because of warm weather.

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