February 22, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Bob Baum)—Kristina Koznick chose a tough path in professional skiing, and if Wednesday was indeed her farewell to the sport, it was a painful one. The 30-year-old American with a trademark shock of pink hair couldn't make it through what might have been the last race of her career.
Skiing with torn ligaments in her right knee, wearing a large brace, Koznick labored to a 34th-place finish in the first leg of the Olympic slalom, an insurmountable 3.34 seconds back of the leader. A few minutes after she left the course, the U.S. Olympic Committee said Koznick would not make a second slalom run.
"I wanted the fairy tale, she said. "I stood up there and I wanted to walk away with a medal. I knew I could write a book about it if I did. It just wasn't meant to be.
Just four days ago, she was on crutches.
"I really fought the last two weeks, Koznick said, her eyes welling with tears, "and I fought so hard.
She planned to fly Thursday to Colorado, where surgery was scheduled for Monday.
"We all wanted a better outcome today, said her boyfriend and coach, Dan Stripp. "We thought it was possible. It's so tough when you're not all there.
Koznick has said since last fall that this would be her last World Cup season, but the injury might change that, she said Wednesday.
"It's really hard for me to think about going out like this, she said, "but I figure I have plenty of time to think about it. If it's in my heart, and I'm still passionate and I still have a love for the sport, it would be shame to walk away.
Koznick was injured Feb. 4 in a warmup for the first run of a World Cup giant slalom in Germany when she skied over an 8-foot ledge.
It looked as if she would be out of the Olympics, but she practiced skiing with the brace and, although she withdrew from the giant slalom, decided to give the slalom a try.
Koznick is a U.S. Olympian, but she is not a member of the U.S. Ski Team. For the past six years, save for a brief interval when she tried to return to the fold, Koznick has gone it alone.[pagebreak]The separation began in 2001, when her relationship with Stripp, then a U.S. coach, became an issue within the national federation. Stripp was told he couldn't coach Koznick and continue the relationship, so the skier left and her coach went with her.
She created "Team Koz and scraped up money wherever she could. Her Web site sells merchandise and seeks donations.
"It's definitely not easy to ski without being on the team, U.S. women's coach Patrick Riml said. "I don't know how much money she spends, but I know how much we spend, and it's a lot.
Somehow, "Team Koz kept operating.
"It's always worked out, Stripp said. "She hasn't always made money on the deal, but this is what she wanted to do.
Koznick tried to rejoin the U.S. team two years ago, but had differences with the coaching staff, Stripp said.
"It was just a pretty tough situation, he said. "It didn't really work out.
That coaching staff is gone, and the new one relates well with Koznick and her team, Riml said.
This was Koznick's third Olympics, and like the other two, it was a disappointment. She didn't finish the slalom in 1998 and was 17th in the giant slalom in 2002.
The World Cup circuit has been a different story. Koznick has 20 top-three finishes, including six firsts. While she hasn't won a World Cup event since 2003, she had a pair of fourths this season.
That taste of success made it hard to give up on the Turin Games.
When she finished what apparently will be her final competitive race, she looked at the slow time and held her head in disappointment. Anja Paerson of Sweden, who had the fastest first-leg run, gave her a hug.
"The first thing that Anja said to me when I walked out is `I'm so proud of you,' Koznick said. "I know what I did is huge and I've never faced anything like this in my career. I could have just gone home and didn't. I guess I should just be proud.. Right now it's hard to feel super proud.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press