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Koznick crashes out of slalom competition again

Posted: Wednesday February 20, 2002 4:07 PM

 
DEER VALLEY -- This is what it looks like on the flip side of the United States' star-spangled Olympic haul: A 26-year-old woman, standing alone at the bottom of a ski hill, away from her family, away from the media, away from spectators. She is wearing a long, pale blue parka with “USA” on the back, with an off-white ski cap on her head. She is no longer wearing skis, but she is leaning on her poles, expressionless. Snow falls ceaselessly on her.

Kristina Koznick came into Wednesday morning's Olympic slalom as the No. 2-ranked women's slalom skier in the world. Even in a dodgy event like slalom, a medal seemed likely and gold seemed possible.

There is no such thing as unworthy Olympic dream, but Koznick's was particularly weighted. Four years earlier she come to Nagano, also ranked second in the World Cup standings. After a cautious don't-ski-out first run, she missed a gate in the second run and was finished. “I had no idea how I had gotten to where I was,” Koznick would say later. “I was standing in the start house thinking What’s going on?”

This time she was ready. Two years ago she had left the U.S. Ski Team to train with her personal coach/boyfriend, Dan Stripp, at an annual cost of $250,000 that would otherwise be covered by the team. She had improved her skiing and her backbone and now she was ready. Just to be certain, Stripp told her before the race, “Have no fear. Don't worry about the outcome. Just go.”

She skied the top part of the Deer Valley course fast and clean, but began to struggle on the steep lower part. On the fifth gate from the finish line, she lost the edge on her left ski and both feet flew into the air. Koznick fell on her side and slid past the next gate, finished again. Stripp was posted high on the course and didn't see Koznick's fall. The crowd made a loud noise when Koznick fell. “I thought she had finished [the race],'' Stripp said, “because it had been a while since I had seen her. My assistant Raul (Guisado) called up and sent she went out. It's tough. It's disappointing.”

In the towering temporary bleachers set up at the finish line, Koznick's divorced parents, Jeff Koznick and Mary Jane Steneman, were stunned. “Falling wasn't even on my radar screen,” said Jeff. “This is one tough sport. I know I couldn't do it. It's just too hard.”

Koznick couldn’t process the information. She lay sideways in the snow. “It didn't even hit me,” she said. “I was lying the snow, but my focus was still on the finish line. I still hard work to do today [in the second run].”

The course was made brutal by fresh, heavy snow, but five of the top seven skiers in the world got through to the second run. For Koznick, the post-race was Nagano rewound, except more painful. She is older now, and another chance seems less likely. “It was the biggest race of my life,” she said right afterward. “It hasn't sunk in yet.”

Slowly it did. As she spoke to media, she began to cry. “My coach (Stripp) said ‘You'll be crying either way, if it's good or bad,’” she said. “These aren't the tears I wanted.” When Stripp found her, they hugged and Stripp massaged Koznick's shoulders. Koznick removed her racing helmet, the one with the little Sesame Street Grover character on the back. Grover sometimes speaks for Koznick on her website and it's really quite cute. On this day it was just sad.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is in Utah covering the Olympic Alpine skiing competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.

 
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