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Paerson Heads to Turin As Favorite

February 7, 2006

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP by Stephan Nasstrom)—Anja Paerson has has never been injured while competing at the highest level in one of the world's most dangerous sports.

For seven years and counting.

Knock on wood.

Avoiding injury has allowed the Swedish skiing star to post amazing accomplishments, including the last two overall World Cup titles. She's among the favorites to win gold at the Turin Olympics _ in all five Alpine events.

So is she just lucky?

``Good coaching, good planning, good physical condition, good balance,'' says Paerson.

The 24-year-old comes from the village of Tarnaby in Lapland, northern Sweden, where she started skiing on Ingemarsbacken, now an illuminated slope named after history's greatest gate racer.

It may be a coincidence. Ingemar Stenmark, who won an unprecedented 86 World Cup slalom and giant slalom races in addition to Olympic and world championship gold medals, also had a virtually injury-free career in gate races.

Lifting weights during the offseason help her prevent injuries.

``Anja is extremely well-trained,'' says Dan Vinberg, the Swedish alpine ski team's doctor.

Starting with the speed events relatively late in her career also helped.[NEXT]``She mastered skiing before we went all out on the downhill track,'' says Anders Paerson, her coach and father. ``And she never takes any risks in training. If the conditions are bad, like poor visibility, she'll just stop ski practice.''

Practicing speed technique _ especially her tuck _ in an aerodynamically designed wind tunnel at Trondheim, Norway, with men's super-G specialist Aksel Lund Svindal in November was a first for Anja Paerson. Her response was ``really positive.''

Still, this season has been up and down. She probably won't win a third straight overall World Cup title. But it doesn't matter. The Olympic races are more important.

``It's been a totally different approach from the past three seasons,'' Paerson says.

After winning a World Cup super-G two weeks before the Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, for her 31st career World Cup triumph, Paerson had wins in all four disciplines for the second straight season. She'll also enter the combined _ slalom and downhill _ at the Turin Games.

``Last year it (winning all four) felt like something very difficult,'' she recalls. ``But this year I'm more proud because it shows consistency.''

Competing in so many events means a tough Olympic schedule for Paerson. For example, if she medals in the super-G, she must head down from the mountains to Turin for the medal ceremony. That's a trip that could take up to eight hours.

Then she must go back to the mountains _ the same Olympic hill where she won her first career World Cup downhill and super-G races last season.

``It's not optimal,'' Paerson said, referring to a possible arrival after midnight. ``The schedule is tough as it is.''

Naturally she would go to Turin if she medals.[NEXT]``I don't think I have any choice,'' Paerson said. ``I don't see myself as a favorite in all events. Well, maybe in the giant slalom where I have two straight world championship titles. On the other hand, it doesn't bother me to be the favorite. I like the major championships.''

Anders Paerson rates her best chances for Olympic gold in the super-G, giant slalom and the combined.

Before the Olympics, they're heading back to Sweden for practice in the slalom _ Anja Paerson's first love.

``We need these days at Vemdalen for slalom practice,'' Anders Paerson said. ``We haven't had so much time with the slalom. But we have seen that she can win slalom races.''

And stay injury-free.

Knock knock.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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