Golden Kostelic Makes History Fri Feb 22, 7:13 PM ET By Alan Baldwin PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Croatia's Janica Kostelic hurtled into history Friday, taking giant slalom gold to become the first Alpine skier to win four Olympic medals at a single Games. The 20-year-old was the first woman to win three Alpine golds at one Games and joined France's Jean-Claude Killy (1968) and Austrian Toni Sailer (1956) as the only skiers ever to do it. Her margin of victory was enormous for a woman who had never before been on a giant slalom podium -- 1.32 seconds ahead of Sweden's Anja Paerson and 1.66 clear of Swiss world champion and bronze medallist Sonja Nef. Her success was all the more extraordinary considering that she comes from a country that had never before won an Olympic medal but that has now won more golds than skiing powerhouse Austria at these Games. "She's proved that mentally she's the strongest ever," said Paerson of her friend and rival. "She's incredible. She can really ski with the pressure on and right now she's the one we have to beat. "I'm so happy for her because she had a rough season with her injuries...I can only congratulate her." Kostelic, the 2001 World Cup overall champion, has lingering pain in her legs after repeated surgery on her knee last year but has now won a medal in every race she has entered at Salt Lake City. NO ENERGY "I've got no energy left," she gasped, brandishing the Croatian flag in the finish area. "I think I'll just go and pick up my medal and go to bed." "I did not expect four medals, I thought I would get maybe one in combined," she said. "I didn't care about the record. I just take one race at a time." Kostelic, whose early career was a battle against adversity with scarce resources and occasional nights spent sleeping in her father's car at World Cup events, had seemed a long shot before Friday's start. She had never before finished on the podium in giant slalom, a fourth place her best. She had won the combined and slalom golds and taken a silver in super-G but even she thought the giant slalom likely to be one race too far. Instead her opening run from a 19th start position blasted away any doubts and her second was every bit as crushing on a piste set by Paerson's father Anders. "I came here hoping to take a medal and I've got two which is more than I could ask for," said Paerson. Her delight contrasted to the disappointment felt by Austrian Alexandra Meissnitzer, a former world champion and silver medallist from Nagano four years ago, who failed to match the pace and fell back from second to fourth. Spain's Maria Jose Rienda Contreras had been third, hoping to become her country's first Alpine medallist since Blanca Fernandez-Ochoa in 1992, but she faded to sixth. Kostelic was fastest by 0.49 after the first run and she was again fastest in the second leg. Paerson was second quickest to move up from fourth place and claim her second medal of the Games after securing a bronze in the slalom. Nef, who crashed out of Wednesday's slalom and almost fell in the first leg, saved Swiss pride with the team's first Alpine medal of the Games. "After the first run I knew gold would be difficult, if not impossible, but I knew I still had a chance of taking a medal," said Nef. "I'm very pleased with my second run."
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