Croatian skier chasing Olympic gold

14/02/2014

Three-time silver medal winner Ivica Kostelic is making his fourth appearance in the Olympics, hoping to capture his first gold medal.

By Kruno Kartus for Southeast European Times in Osijek -- 14/02/14

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Croatian alpine skier Ivica Kostelic has three Olympic silver medals and will be trying to win gold in Sochi as he competes in the Olympics for the fourth time. [AFP]

Ivica Kostelic arrived in Sochi chasing an achievement that narrowly eluded him four years ago in Vancouver and eight years ago in Turin: a gold medal.

One of the world's top alpine skiers, the 34-year-old Croatian is the owner of three Olympic silver medals. He made his Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002, taking ninth in the giant slalom, then was second in the super combined event in 2006 by 0.53 seconds. Four years ago he again took second in the super combined and added another silver medal in the slalom, finishing just 0.16 seconds behind Italy's Giuliano Razzoli.

Kostelic has had mixed results in his final preparations for Sochi. He recorded top-three finishes in a few small-scale races in Austria during the first week of January. But in a series of 17 International Ski Federation World Cup races he entered in December and January, Kostelic failed to finish higher than 17th.

Lingering injuries may be partly to blame, and Kostelic's colleagues say it will be important for him to be completely healthy when he begins competition in Sochi on Friday (February 14th) in the super combined. Kostelic has dealt with numerous injuries in his career, and early last year he underwent knee surgery for the 10th time.

"The results have not discouraged me," Kostelic told Croatian television channel HRT on February 2nd. "The Olympic Games is one special competition in which the result vastly depends on current motivation and inspiration of competitors. I believe can reach the Olympic gold.

"For now, my health is good. The Olympic Games has a special motivation for me, which makes it one of my priorities. I am motivated for achieving what I believe is the top result. And my aim is a medal, a gold one if possible."

"These are his paths, but the results in January show that Ivica was not in good condition," Nenad Eror, a spokesperson for the Croatian Ski Association told SETimes. "But I think it's a combination of circumstances and a bad-luck streak. His previous training was prepared for the Olympics, so we are sure he will be his best in Sochi, which was the objective of this past year. Now, he would certainly welcome a good result to bring back the self-confidence."

Eror recalled that Kostelic also performed poorly prior to the Torino Olympics, but still won a medal there.

"For us it is most important that he is super healthy at the moment," Eror said. "There are no problems with the knee or back pain. One knee was operated 10 times, so each month he must receive an injection, which regenerates cartilage in the knee. This year the knee is good, and a therapist is constantly with Ivica and helps him with his back and knee."

Damir Šegota, chief of staff of the Croatian Olympic Committee, also has confidence in Kostelic.

"It is clear from recent results that Ivica was not performing well, but this is normal and should not worry us. The most important thing is that there are no health problems and that he is healthy performance in the games," Šegota told SETimes.

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Kostelic's physical therapist, Zoran Prso, told Croatian daily 24Sata on February 5th that the three-time silver medal winner's ability to endure pain makes him unique.

"Everybody else would leave skiing a long time ago, but he learned to ski with pains," Prso said. "This year is a solid good situation, but of course his body is more sensitive from year to year. Anyway, we are for him and handle the eventual problems."

Kostelić is considered one of Croatia's best athletes of all time. In addition to his Olympic performances, he has won 18 World Cup races -- 11 in slalom, five in combination, one in the super-G and one in the parallel slalom. He won gold in the slalom at the World Championships in St. Moritz in 2003 and took bronze in the super-G at the 2011 World Championships in Garmish. He won the Big Crystal Globe as the FIS overall champion for the 2010-2011 season, and in 2010 President Ivo Josipovic awarded him with the Order of Croatian Danica, the highest national recognition.

After winning three silver medals in previous Olympics, how significant would it be for Ivica Kostelic to win gold in Sochi? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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