February 2, 2006
ROME (AP by Andrew Dampf) - Giorgio Rocca is the favorite to win gold in the men's slalom. The Italian women's ski team, on the other hand, is struggling entering the Turin Olympics.
Rocca won the first five World Cup slalom races this season, giving Italy hopes of an Alpine medal in Turin. The women have only Elena Fanchini's victory in the season-opening World Cup downhill.
"The girls don't have a reference point now like when I was skiing and with Kostner gone," said Deborah Compagnoni, the first Alpine skier to win gold medals in three different Olympics.
Compagnoni retired after the 1998 Nagano Games. Isolde Kostner announced her surprise retirement last month due to pregnancy.
Kostner was Italy's flagbearer at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, going on to win a silver medal in downhill. She also won bronze medals in downhill and super giant slalom at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
"It's certainly not the best of times for the team," Kostner said. "Elena is suffering with her knee, Lussy (Recchia) has asthma. I was also having a tough time before I quit."
Besides Kostner's silver, Daniela Ceccarelli won the gold medal in super-G in Salt Lake City and Karen Putzer took bronze in the same event.
Ceccarelli's Olympic victory remains the only significant win of her career.
Putzer followed her Olympic performance with an outstanding 2002-03 season, placing second in the overall World Cup standings. Since then, though, she has struggled with injuries, coaching changes and personal issues.
"She's very skilled but I'm not sure she's made the right decisions. She doesn't produce good results anymore," Compagnoni said. "Certainly, a big part of that is due to her physical problems."
Lucia Recchia won the silver medal in super-G at last season's world championships, but has finished no higher than sixth this season after falling in the Lake Louise downhill.
"The team hasn't lived up to expectations," Kostner said. "Recchia was extremely strong in preseason training, but she hasn't been the same after that fall in Lake Louise. Elena started the season strongly, but now her knee is hurting.
"I don't think you can compare Italy with Austria, we have to compare ourselves with teams like Sweden and Canada," Kostner added.
The team is grooming 20-year-old Elena Fanchini and her 19-year-old sister, Nadia Fanchini - the junior world giant slalom and downhill champion - as future leaders.
"I see some of myself in them. But let's not get out of control," Compagnoni said. ``Without a leader everyone's expecting a lot from them, and it's not fair for them."