Janica Kostelic at Soelden openers, but as a spectator


Janica Kostelic at Soelden openers, but as a spectatorFor the fifth time in her career, Croatia’s Janica Kostelic attended the opening giant slalom in Soelden with her mother Marica — but this time only as a spectator.

This summer, instead of her usual tough training regiment, the defending overall World Cup champion underwent four knee operations. She’s been forced to skip the opener in Soelden and the North American World Cup swing, but looks forward to making a comeback in late December.

“It’s fun to be here because I can be more relaxed than in past years,” she said with a smile while signing autographs for fans. “But on the other hand I wished to be racing, too, with these nice weather conditions. … It’s here that I scored my very first World Cup points in October 1998 and I reached some good results afterwards.”

She said it had been a tough summer with the operations and the subsequent rehab, “but things should go better now. The doctors in Schruns where I had [the most recent] operation three weeks ago are pleased by the last arthroscopic intervention, and the rehab is going fine, too. I’ll stay a few more days there before heading back home.”

Kostelic, who dominated her rivals last season, winning her second overall World Cup title and two gold medals at the worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland, endured pain in her right knee throughout most of the season. She had a tough time just walking before and after the races in St. Moritz.

Some of her rivals wondered how serious her injuries could be as she went on to win two events at the worlds. But the answer came when Kostelic was forced to undergo surgery only a few days after the season. Unfortunately, the pain didn’t disappear afterwards as she hoped. “I could only ski a few days here and there,” she explained. “I only spent a couple of weeks in Mljet in July to rest this year. It was difficult and I lost my momentum when I saw that I couldn’t train normally. It was hard.”

The 21-year-old champion from Zagreb has faced many grueling moments in her career including a life-threatening crash in downhill training at St. Moritz in December 1999. She damaged all the ligaments in her knee in that accident, yet the surgeons who operated on her afterwards for six hours in Basel, Switzerland, were able to save it. The following winter she captured her first overall World Cup globe, winning 10 events.

In 2002, she clinched three gold medals and a one silver in a history-making performance at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

“I’m used to working hard to come back and I don’t feel too bad about these recent problems,” she said in Soelden. “I just hope to be very soon healthy again because I like to ski a lot. Ski racing is my life. If things go better, I may be back in Linz, Austria, at the end of the year. I have no precise goals for the rest of the season beside improving my form and staying healthy. I have [achieved] a lot and I don’t feel any pressure. I hope that Ivica [Kostelic, her brother and a top World Cup slalom skier]will do well on Sunday.”

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