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Halfway to History

Park City, Utah (AP by Rob Gloster)--Janica Kostelic moved to the brink of becoming the first Alpine skier to win four medals in an Olympics by posting the fastest time on the first run of the women's giant slalom Friday.

The second run was set for later Friday.

Kostelic, 20, a Croat who already has gold medals in the slalom and the combined event and a silver in the super giant slalom, finished the morning run in 1 minute, 16.00 seconds--fastest by nearly half a second.

The ``Croatian Sensation,'' who missed the first half of the World Cup season while recovering from three offseason knee operations, ranks only 30th in the giant slalom on the World Cup circuit this season.

That meant she had to start from the 19th position Friday on a course too tough for several of the pre-race favorites. Norwegians Andrine Flemmen and Stina Hofgard Nilsen crashed out on the first run. The spill left Nilsen howling in anger as she came to a stop in the snow.

The sharply sloping course and tight turns forced the skiers to fling their bodies from side to side as they raced down the course on a mild, sun-swept day.

Alexandra Meissnitzer of Austria was second fastest on the morning run in 1:16.49. Maria Jose Rienda Contreras of Spain was third, in 1:16.73. Switzerland's Sonja Nef, the defending world champion, was sixth in 1:16.94. No U.S. skier was in the top 15.

Kostelic's time was all the more remarkable considering where she started on the course. The racer before her, American Kristina Koznick, finished in 1:18.04--more than two seconds slower than Kostelic. The two racers after Kostelic fell.

Five men and five women, including Kostelic, have won three Alpine medals at an Olympics. There were only three Alpine events until 1988, when the Super G debuted and the combined event was reintroduced after a 40-year hiatus.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press

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