Kostelic, Janica

Kostelic, Janica
▪ 2003

      Demonstrating why she was called the “Croatian Sensation,” Janica Kostelic overcame injury and adversity to make history at the 2002 Winter Olympics. In Salt Lake City, Utah, she became the first Croatian to win a Winter Games medal and the first skier to win four Alpine skiing medals at a single Olympics. She earned a medal in every event in which she competed—gold in the slalom, the giant slalom, and the combined event and silver in the supergiant slalom. Kostelic's achievement was all the more remarkable considering that she had spent much of 2001 undergoing operations on her left knee and rehabilitation, and she had arrived at the Games having failed to win a race during the 2001–02 World Cup season. Her record-setting performances were cheered in Croatia, where Kostelic was a national hero, and some 200,000 fans welcomed her triumphant return home.

      Kostelic was born in Zagreb, Yugos. (now Croatia), on Jan. 5, 1982. Encouraged by her father, who later became her coach, she put on her first pair of skis at age three. Though there were few training facilities and ski courses in the country, Kostelic displayed promise, and at age nine she began competing in races throughout Europe. The family—including her older brother, Ivica, who was also a skier—drove to the events, often sleeping in the car or a tent owing to a shortage of money. In the 1996–97 season, Kostelic won all 22 events she entered and claimed the top junior titles in the slalom and giant slalom. In 1998 at Nagano, Japan, she competed in her first Winter Games, and though she did not earn a medal, her eighth-place finish in the combined event was then the highest finish by a Croatian Winter Olympian.

      During the 1998–99 World Cup season, her first year on the tour, Kostelic began to receive international attention. After several strong showings, she claimed her first World Cup victory in the combined event held in St. Anton, Austria. The following season she won two World Cup slaloms, then crashed during training, tearing ligaments in her right knee. Some wondered whether she would ever compete again, but Kostelic displayed her trademark resilience. After surgery she underwent a quick rehabilitation, returning for the 2000–01 season. She did poorly at the 2001 world championships but won eight consecutive slalom races en route to claiming her first World Cup overall title. In March 2001 she injured her left knee and had to endure three more operations. A lengthy recovery followed, but she was ready for the start of the 2001–02 season. Several weeks after making history in Salt Lake, she triumphed in the slalom in Flachau, Austria, the final event of the World Cup season. Joining her on the podium was Ivica, who had won the men's giant slalom.

Amy Tikkanen

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Universalium. 2010.

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