Georgetown, CO, Nov. 17, 2001--Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN), who hadn't planned to race until she learned $10,000 was on the line to be top American, earned the first 2002 Olympic Team berth for the U.S. Ski Team Saturday, finishing third -- but No. 1 American -- in a Nature Valley Alpine Cup slalom at sun-bathed Loveland Ski Area.
The Olympic berth and cash went to the winner of the U.S. Ski Team Gold Cup, the race-within-the-race. Karin Koellerer of Austria, fourth after the first run, hung-up the second-fastest second run and finished with a two-run time of 1:46.30. Slovakian 17-year-old Veronika Zuzulova was second in 1:46.51 and Koznick held on to third place in the field of 102 with a time of 1:47.16.
Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) was 20th with junior Erika Hogan (Holmes, NY), a Stratton Mountain School racer, 22nd and Reisi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, WY) 28th.
After the first run, Koznick said she had seen a lot of racers intimidated, so when she started No. 17, she ripped from the start. On the second run, skiing 30th in the flip-30 format -- and with more than a three-second lead on Schleper, the second American in the opening run, Koznick held back to ensure she finished the race. As the acknowledged top U.S. slalom skier, she wasn't as concerned about making the Olympic Team as she was about collecting the $10,000 top prize.
Koz: "I'm skiing really well..."
"I knew, standing in the start second run, as icy as it was, that I just needed to finish to win $10,000 and that's something I definitely came for, and I'd be lying if I say I didn't come for the money," said Koznick. "It was really challenging and I don't like skiing to finish. It's just not a pleasure...but at the same time, I know I'm skiing really well. I proved it my first run, and the goal is to win in Copper Mountain, Colo." when the World Cup resumes Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, Sarah and Caroline Lalive - Steamboat Springs, CO both had rough days and it was really between the three of us for the Olympic spot and the $10,000. Unfortunately, first run Sarah had trouble and then Caroline -- luckily she's okay -- went down. So, I knew all this and I wanted somebody nipping at my heels. If there was someone nipping at my heels, you would've seen Koz, you would've seen me racing. And, unfortunately, there wasn't and all I had to do was standup...
"If it was just like I was top American but I didn't put anything together, then I'd really be disappointed, but the fact of the matter is I'm skiing great. I raced first run and that's what I have inside me...and I'm happy."
U.S. coach likes "bright spots" from the back
U.S. women's Head Coach Marjan Cernigoj said the intimidation factor was very real in the first run, including Schleper being anxious about the ice. "I think the second run was definitely a booster for Sarah and I think she'll definitely build on it Sunday. She can make top-10 and we'll gladly take it. There was a lot of intimidation from the entire field about the snow conditions. Hardly anybody had a chance to practice on something like this. Second run was already a lot better for the entire field."
He had high praise for Lindsey C. Kildow (Vail, CO) and Lalive for the way they attacked the top part of the 54-gate course before going down in the first run.
Cernigoj also said Steigler and Hogan, two teenagers, caught his attention with their skiing. "They had high numbers Hogan started 88th, Steigler 85th but they showed confident skiing. It was not all that pretty but it was fast, it was down the hill, it was gutsy...and that's exactly what we want. They were definitely two very bright spots from the very back."
The Nature Valley Alpine Cup concludes Sunday with another women's slalom. First run is at 10 a.m. MST.
NATURE VALLEY ALPINE CUP
Loveland Ski Area - Nov. 17
1. Karin Koellerer, Austria, 1:46.30
2. Veronika Zuzulova, Slovakia, 1:46.51
3. Kristinaa Koznick, Burnsville, Minn., 1:47.16
4. Marlies Oester, Switzerland, 1:47.25
5. Genevieve Simard, Canada, 1:47.27
6. Spela Pretnar, Slovenia, 1:47.32
7. Carina Raich, Austria, 1:47.36
8. Silke Bachmann, Italy, 1:47.44
9. Trine Bakke, Norway, 1:47.98
10. Elisabetta Biavaschi, Italy, 1:48.07
Other U.S. Skiers in the top 25:
20. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 1:49.91
22. Erika Hogan, Holmes, N.Y., 1:50.29