February 11, 2005
SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)--Croatia's Janica Kostelic left a sick bed to win the slalom Friday, gasping for breath at the finish after becoming the first woman in 23 years to sweep three ski titles at a world championships.
Kostelic, who skipped the giant slalom this week because of a high fever and cough, was third after the opening leg but skied an amazing second run to successfully defend her title. She captured the downhill and combined last week.
Kostelic doubled over after her latest victory and wiped her forehead with snow before being helped off the course by team officials.
``I'm ill and want only to go to bed. I have no more strength,'' she said. ``Before my run I tried to eat as much chocolate as possible in order to refuel my energy. I'm lucky.''
The previous woman to win three gold medals at the worlds was Switzerland's Erika Hess (slalom, giant slalom, combined) in 1982 in Schladming, Austria. Kostelic also won three golds at the 2002 Olympics (slalom, giant slalom, combined).
Kostelic had a combined time of 1 minute, 47.98 seconds. Finland's Tanja Poutiainen, the leader after the opening leg, placed second in 1:48.16 for her second silver medal of the worlds following the giant slalom. Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic won the bronze in 1:48.65. Zahrobska finished third on her 20th birthday, giving her country its first world championship medal.
U.S. skiers Resi Stiegler, Sarah Schleper and Julia Mancuso finished sixth through eighth. Mancuso already has won two bronze medals.
Sweden's Anja Paerson, who was second-fastest in the opening leg, skied off course during her second trip down the slope.
Paerson, the reigning overall World Cup champion, and Kostelic have won all the women's titles at the worlds so far. The Swede took the super giant slalom and giant slalom, races in which Kostelic did not compete.
Kostelic had the advantage over the Poutiainen in the second leg because coach and father Ante Kostelic was the designated course setter. The job rotates among coaches from race to race. U.S. coach Trevor Wagner set the gates for the first leg.
``The second run was a very heavy course, and I couldn't find my rhythm,'' Poutiainen said. ``On the whole, I am content, although I was disappointed at first that I didn't win gold.''
The Finn, winner of three World Cup slaloms this season, has clinched the World Cup slalom title this season. She is the first woman from her country to win a medal at the worlds.
Poutiainen had been sleeping with her skis in her room after an unsuccessful robbery attempt at the team hotel, where Paerson's waxing technician also is staying. Two intruders were interrupted at 3:30 a.m and fled, although without Poutiainen's or Paerson's skis.
Paerson also was not feeling well, having been hit by the bug that has felled Kostelic and other skiers.
``First run I was really sick,'' she said. ``Second run I was a bit better.''
A number of medal contenders crashed out in the opening run, foiled by a tricky hairpin gate within sight of the finish, including American Kristina Koznick, Austria's Marlies Schild and Elisabeth Goergl, Germany's Martina Ertl of Germany and France's Laure Pequegnot.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press