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Alpine Skiing Friday, 22 February, 2002, 23:07 GMT
Sensational return for Kostelic
Janica Kostelic
Kostelic left the field in her wake in the slalom runs
BBC Sport Online's Anna Thompson profiles "Croatian Sensation" Janica Kostelic, who won a record four alpine medals at Salt Lake City.

The future of Janica Kostelic's ski career looked extremely uncertain last June when she had to undergo her fourth knee operation in 12 months.

She missed the start of this season while she was recuperating, making her Salt Lake City preparations far from satisfactory.

The 20-year-old only started skiing again competitively - and tentatively - at the end of 2001.

And her World Cup results hardly inspired anyone that she would come up trumps at the Winter Olympics.

But Kostelic astounded the Utah crowd, and herself, when she clinched Croatia's first ever Winter Olympic gold with a strong downhill run in the combined event.

The Croatian fans went wild at Snowbasin as Kostelic draped herself in the nation's flag.

Croatian Sensation
Made Olympic debut in 1998 aged 16
Won overall and slalom World Cup titles in 2000/01
After winning the title a fan covered her bed with a rose for every point she had - 1,256
Only sports star in Croatia to be pictured on a stamp
The slalom specialist said: "I really didn't expect to run a downhill."

Kostelic was nearly 1.5 seconds ahead of Austria's Renate Goetschl in second, with Germany's Martina Ertl a further third of a second behind in fourth.

It was not long before Kostelic added a second gold medal in her strongest event, the slalom, and won a silver in the super-G.

But the Croatian earned her place in Olympic history when she won the giant slalom in convincing style on Friday.

She blew the rest of the field away, finishing 1.32 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, to become the Olympic's most successful alpine skier.

She is only the third skier to win three golds at the same Olympics after France's Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 and Austrian Toni Sailer in 1956.

Kostelic began skiing at the age of 10 in Zagreb and she and her brother Ivica travelled to junior ski races around Europe.

The family was so poor that they could only afford to sleep in the car or tents and eat salami and pickle sandwiches.

She said: "It's true. We had no money. When you're a kid you don't really think about it.

"It's much better now."

Kostelic has proved she is a battler by coming back from another career-threatening injury in 1999 - when she had a five-hour operation to reconstruct her knee.

Janica Kostelic celebrates her World Cup win in 2001
Kostelic toasts her World Cup success
She returned to the World Cup circuit in 2000/01 and was in tremendous form, becoming overall champion and slalom champion with 10 slalom wins in a row.

Her progress this season was severely hindered by yet another niggling knee injury.

As well as physical injury, Kostelic was suffering mentally too - wondering whether she would ever win another race again.

Her coach Slaven Petrovic made her free dive 100ft in the Adriatic Sea without oxygen.

He said this was to teach her not to panic.

And it has definitely worked as Kostelic has won a medal in every event that she has competed in at Salt Lake City.

It is not surprising the Croatian was so exhausted after her historic third gold in the giant slalom on Friday.

"I've got no energy left," she joked, "I think I'll just go and pick up my medal and go to bed."

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Alpine Skiing
Kostelic takes combined title
15 Feb 02 | Alpine Skiing
Kostelic's downhill surprise
Links to more Alpine Skiing stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Alpine Skiing stories

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