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Croatian Skier Makes Winter Olympics History - 2002-02-23

A Croatian alpine skier has made history at the Winter Olympics

Janica Kostelic of Croatia has become the first alpine skier to win four Olympic medals in a single Winter Games.

The 20-year-old sensation was fastest on both runs down the giant slalom course here, winning the gold medal convincingly by time of 1.32 seconds over Anja Paerson of Sweden. Sonja Nef, the reigning giant slalom world champion and current World Cup leader, was 34/100ths of a second further back to take the bronze medal.

After winning gold medals in the combined and slalom, and silver in the super giant slalom, Kostelic was not considered a top medal contender in this event. But because of her success already here, before this race the Croatian said she could ski without any pressure.

After the race, Kostelic was asked how someone from a country with no big mountains could become so dominant at the Olympics in alpine skiing "I think it doesn't really matter where you come from," she said. "I mean you can be from [wherever]. I mean from Fiji, Cameroon. If you train hard and you like what you're doing, I mean you're going to have success for sure."

And giant slalom silver medallist Anja Paerson of Sweden said she was very happy for the success of her good friend Janica Kostelic at these Olympics, especially since the Croatian struggled during the season after recovering from three knee injuries. "She proved mentally she is the strongest of us. She's incredible. She can really ski with the pressure on herself. And right now she's the one we have to beat, and I'm so happy for her because she had a rough season with her injuries," she said.

Now Kostelic gets to watch her older brother Ivica compete in the men's slalom on Saturday. He currently leads the World Cup slalom standings.

The last brother-sister tandem to collect skiing medals at the same Winter Olympics were Andreas and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein in 1980.

This was a disappointing Winter Games for the U.S. women alpine skiers. It's the first Olympics since 1988 they failed to win a medal.

U.S. Ski Association spokesman Tom Kelly spoke with VOA Sports about the women's poor results. "It's kind of important when you come into the games to get that momentum going early, and we just never really captured that in the downhill and super-G, and it just kind of carried over into the technical events [giant slalom and slalom]. We've got some great skiers on this team as evidenced by the World Cup results," he said. "When we go to the World Cup finals now in two weeks in Austria, we've got a number of athletes who are going to be bidding either for World Cup titles or top finishes in the season-long World Cup. But we just didn't show that here in the Olympics."

The four American skiers in the women's giant slalom placed 17th, 21st, 26th and 28th out of 68 racers.