St. Anton, Austria Feb. 2, 2001 (AP Nesha Starcevic)--Before Daron Rahlves attacks the downhill slope at the World Championships, Caroline Lalive gets her chance.
The 21-year-old skier from Steamboat Springs, Colo., hoped to grab a medal in the women's combined event Friday.
The combined favorites were Janica Kostelic, the 19-year-old Croat sensation, and Austrian World Cup champion Renate Goetschl.
But Lalive could well end up on the podium and perhaps even steal the gold from Kostelic or Goetschl.
The American is one of the select few to score World Cup points in every discipline this season, and she finished second behind Kostelic in the only previous combined event this season. The winner is determined by adding the times of a downhill run and two slalom heats.
Lalive crashed in the opening super-G, wincing in pain with a pulled left groin.
She missed the first downhill practice run, but has completed two and finished fifth in the final run Thursday.
That dispelled early worries that she could be forced to skip the combined event, probably her best chance to medal.
``The important parts of me are fine now. That's the head and my knees. I pulled my groin, but every day there is more and more improvement, I've been pushing hard for the combined and trying to be smart,'' she said.
``I am feeling OK, I haven't felt pain. I wasn't scared going down.''
Lalive, who also earned points in all events last season on the circuit, said that staying focused on all the skiing disciplines is difficult.
``As this season progressed, I was having trouble with my giant slalom, so I started to worry, saying I have to get it back,'' she said. ``When I stopped worrying, things started to get better.''
Lalive has a Swiss father and has spent time in Switzerland, prompting jokes on the team that she could leave and race for that Alpine nation _ something she says has never crossed her mind.
Rahlves' gold medal in the super-G has boosted the U.S. team's confidence.
``Competing in Austria is almost liberating, watching the country's big expectations. This is a big event that will help us prepare for all those expectations and pressure next year at home at the Olympics,'' she said.
Kostelic will be a formidable rival for Lalive. She has swept all seven slalom races this season and is good enough in the downhill to make her a top favorite.
Croat officials dismissed a groin strain as a minor problem that would not prevent Kostelic from giving it her best shot.
Goetschl won the event four years ago and took the silver two years later in Vail, Colo.
``Janica is the favorite, but you must not forget Lalive,'' Goetschl said.
Rahlves, from Truckee, Calif., gets his second gold medal chance in Saturday's downhill. Bjt XtremeSports
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