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Kostelic Wins Combined on Olympic Course

February 27, 2005



SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Croatia's Janica Kostelic captured the only women's World Cup combined of the season Sunday, mastering the new course for next year's Olympics and ending Anja Paerson's two-race winning streak.

Kostelic recorded the fastest time in the morning downhill and then cruised to victory in the single slalom run for a combined time of 2 minutes, 19.35 seconds.

Paerson, the Swede who won Friday's super giant slalom and secured her first downhill victory Saturday, finished 0.43 seconds behind.

Canada's Emily Brydon took third place in the day's big surprise. Previously known mostly as a speed specialist, she was 1.32 back for the second top-three finish of her career.

The leading Americans were Lindsey Kildow (fifth), Julia Mancuso (sixth) and Resi Stiegler (eighth).

Kostelic is the reigning Olympic champion in the discipline and also won the event at the last two world championships, most recently at Santa Caterina, Italy, on Feb. 4.

``I think the downhill was the key. Since Anja won yesterday, I knew I really had to push much harder to beat her and I had a much better run than yesterday,'' said Kostelic, who finished second Saturday.

This was Kostelic's second victory on the regular World Cup circuit this season following her slalom win in Aspen, Colo., in November.

This victory allowed her to gain 20 points on Paerson and pull within 63 points of the lead in the overall standings. Paerson began the weekend with an eight-point lead and now has 1,241 points to Kostelic's 1,178. The title will not be decided until next month's World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

Kostelic missed all of last season because of a thyroid problem and injuries. She won three gold medals to Paerson's two at the recent world championships.

``I'm really relaxed now,'' Kostelic said. ``No matter where I finish I'll be happy because when the season began no one expected much from me, and I've had a great season and a great world championships.''

Unlike the worlds and Olympics where there are two slalom runs in combined, Sunday's race had only one, theoretically making the contest more even between speed and technical specialists.

``I like it better with two runs,'' Kostelic said. ``Today though I liked it better with just one run because I was a little tired.''

Brydon, once a highly promising junior skier, was fifth in Saturday's downhill. The slalom course was relatively flat and not too challenging, and that may have helped her. Her other podium finish was third place in a downhill at St. Moritz, Switzerland, more than four years ago.

``It's been a long time between juniors and now, and I've put a lot of work in and I hope it's starting to pay off,'' she said.

Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic, the recently crowned junior world slalom champion, had the fastest slalom run. Zahrobska, third in the slalom at the senior worlds, finished 17th because of a slow downhill.

The 19-year-old Stiegler, who had top-10 results in the slalom and giant slalom at the junior worlds, posted the second-fastest slalom behind Zahrobska. She said the entire U.S. team left with a good impression for the Turin Olympics.

``It gives you confidence when you come back knowing that it's a sweet hill and you can rip it,'' she said.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press

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