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Koznick: Last Hope for U.S. Women

Park City, Utah (AP by Rob Gloster)--Kristina Koznick is the only skier left with a realistic chance of preventing an Alpine medal shutout for American women, their first such Olympic wipeout since the 1988 Calgary Games.

And she's not even a member of the U.S. Ski Team.

Koznick is a favorite in Wednesday's slalom, the first Alpine race in Park City after a week at Snowbasin in which no American woman finished higher than sixth in the downhill, super giant slalom or combined event.

Koznick has been one of the top slalomers on the World Cup circuit this season, with a tie for first in one race and three second-place finishes.

U.S. women's coach Marjan Cernigoj said he hopes the shutout in Snowbasin won't put added pressure on Koznick and Sarah Schleper, who has an outside chance at a medal in the slalom.

``Everybody reacts to this a little different,'' Cernigoj said Monday. ``Some people react like, `It's more chance for me to shine, I'm going to take this over.' Other people may feel a little more pressure. On the coaching side, that's absolutely what we don't want.''

Koznick, a Minnesotan who left the U.S. Ski Team in summer 2000 after five seasons on the squad, trains independently and pays her own way on the World Cup circuit--traveling with a group known as ``Team Koznick.''

Included on that team is her boyfriend, former U.S. coach Dan Stripp, who now coaches and manages Koznick. Stripp was fired by the U.S. Ski Team in spring 2000, at least in part because of his relationship with Koznick.

Also on Team Koznick is ski technician John Mulligan, also formerly of the U.S. Ski Team. He is Picabo Street's fiance.

``I think the pressure, unfortunately, is going to be on Sarah because she's working with the national team and the coaches that haven't come up with the medals so far,'' Koznick said Monday. ``It's just going to be the same pressure that I face on the World Cup.''

Koznick, who left the ski team after disputes over training and her relationship with Stripp, says she spent $125,000 from personal savings and fund-raising efforts to compete in the World Cup last season.

``I know when I get my Olympic medal that I've earned it,'' she said last March at the U.S. national championships. ``I want to win for the U.S. wholeheartedly, but it won't be for the U.S. Ski Team.''

Koznick, 26, has five career World Cup slalom victories--including a tie for first place in a race last month in Germany. She failed to finish the slalom at the 1998 Nagano Games, her only previous Olympic event.

She also failed to finish the slalom at the 1999 world championships, then placed eighth at the 2001 world championships.

``I was very concerned last year, finishing was more on my mind than anything,'' she said. ``I knew I couldn't come into these games not having finished anything. That's not on my mind anymore about finishing, because I know I have.''

She is expected to battle for the slalom medals with Croatia's Janica Kostelic, who already has two medals at the Salt Lake City Games and is the defending World Cup slalom champion; France's Laure Pequegnot, who has three World Cup slalom victories this season; Switzerland's Sonja Nef, and Anja Paerson and Ylva Nowen of Sweden.

Paerson is the female equivalent of Bode Miller, an all-or-nothing skier who can be unbeatable if she stays on the course. The reigning world champion has won all four of the World Cup slaloms she has finished this season--she has fallen in the other four.

Schleper, 22, of Vail, Colo., who has had six top-eight World Cup slalom finishes this season, said Monday it's hard to pick a favorite.

``I think ski racing is one of those sports where there are so many variables,'' she said. ``The Olympics are just a totally different story. I don't think anything is really too predictable.''

Copyright © 2000 The Assoociated Press

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