Kostner wins women's downhill

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The Independent Online

Italy's Isolde Kostner won the women's World Cup downhill in St Moritz, Switzerland today, collecting her third victory of the season and solidifying her status as the circuit's top speedster.

Italy's Isolde Kostner won the women's World Cup downhill in St Moritz, Switzerland today, collecting her third victory of the season and solidifying her status as the circuit's top speedster.

Kostner blitzed down the 2,780-meter Corviglia course in 1 minute, 37.81 seconds to clinch her second win in as many downhill races this season, finishing over a second ahead of her closest rival Regina Haeusl of Germany.

Winless for almost two years, Kostner has suddenly rocketed to the forefront of women's skiing this year, beginning with her triumph in the season-opening downhill and a victory in a super-G in Val d'Isere last week.

The Italian, who now has six career World Cup downhill victories, two super-G wins and has climbed the podium 31 times in both events together, admitted she was uneasy going into the race.

"This victory is especially satisfying because it is so difficult and technical," said Kostner, a true speed specialist. "I usually have a great deal of difficulty with courses that have many hills and tight turns.

"I was very nervous about this race and the main jump at the top," said Kostner, a notoriously poor jumper. "I hardly slept at all last night."

The artificial jump on the newly-reconfigured course claimed a victim during training the previous day, when the World Cup's newest darling Janica Kostelic crash-landed, suffering multiple torn ligaments, which ended her season.

A second place finish was an unexpected birthday present for Haeusl, whose previous best result this season was a 10th in the Val d'Isere super-G. Her last podium dated back to over a year ago when she finished third in a downhill in Lake Louise.

Crossing in 1:37.89, Haeusl extended Germany's streak of second places.

Germany's Hilde Gerg, who finished second to Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer in the overall World Cup rankings last season, has finished runner-up three times this season, placing second behind Kostner in the Lake Louise downhill and second in both super-Gs - each time missing victory by an aggravating .10 seconds or less.

"The whole team has been chasing Hilde because she's being doing so well," said Haeusl, who has one career World Cup victory which dates back six years. "She has been runner-up three times this season so we tried to imitate her. Perhaps too closely..."

Slovenia's Spela Bracun was a surprise third, crossing in 1:38.03 to collect her first career World Cup podium. The Slovenian's previous best result was a sixth place in a super-G in Cortina in 1998.

"I can't believe it," said the 22-year-old. "No one on the team expected it and when I saw my time on the board I had to look several times before my team told me it was true.

"It's like being rewarded for all the bad things I went through before," said Bracun, who suffered torn knee ligaments in 1995 and was unsure whether to return this season after a mediocre performance last year. "I've had bad moments and felt like quitting but this erases everything."

Austria's Renate Goetschl was fourth in 1:38.12, ahead of compatriot Michaela Dorfmeister, fifth in 1:38.25.

Unheralded Merete Fjeldavlie of Norway was another unexpected presence among the top 10, finishing sixth in 1:38.30.

Switzerland's Corinne Rey Bellet delighted the partisan crowd, taking the lead for a brief moment before dropping to seventh with her chrono of 1:38.37.

Her compatriot Sylviane Berthod clocked the eighth-fastest time, crossing in 1:38.46.

Gerg crossed back in 10th place, .75 adrift.

Jonna Mendes was the top American, finishing 12th in 1:38.79.

With the victory, Kostner climbed to second in the overall World Cup standings where she sits with 419 points, trailing the injured Kostelic by one point.

Kostelic's slim advantage will likely disappear after Saturday's downhill and Sunday's super-G.

"I fell very confident after today's result," said Kostner. "I know I can do well here tomorrow. A victory the day before another race is always a good thing..."

The 17-year-old Kostelic, the surprise leader of the overall World Cup standings, brought her season - and perhaps her career - to an early end when she fell coming off the biggest artificial jump on the course, rupturing anterior cruciate knee ligaments, medial ligaments, meniscal cartilage and possibly severed posterior cruciate ligaments as well.