Slalom master Koznick call it quits
July 15, 2006
Kristina Koznick has turned from running World Cup slalom courses – where she won six times and emerged as one of the premier gate-runners in U.S. skiing annals – to walking her pooch, a terrier named Emma…playing softball…and planning her wedding.
Koznick, a three-time Olympian and six-time World Championships racer who also won five U.S. slalom titles and eight junior national crowns, originally said she would pull things over last season. However, when she partially tore a knee ligament in pre-race training shortly before the Olympics, and her Torino trip was limited to one pain-laden slalom run, she had toyed with the idea of returning for another season.
However, she decided Sunday, over a cup of coffee after church that she was through. She e-mailed the U.S. Ski Association plus friends and the media Monday night that she was retired, as of 20 minutes ago.
It was no easy decision, as she admitted in a couple of cell phone calls this week, but she’s more than comfortable with the decision.
"I went back and forth, but once I made the decision, I felt so much better," she said. "Yeah, it was like that load had been lifted off me."
Koznick, who always "skied up’ (i.e., facing kids older than her age group, was one of the nation’s most-watched junior racers, winning eight junior national championships in three disciplines. She was the most dominant U.S. women’s slalom skier for the past decade, but she was a junior gold medalist not only in SL but giant slalom and super-G.
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She made her World Cup debut in March 1991, during World Cup Finals at New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley resort while bouncing between the regional J2 Junior Olympics (no J2 nationals in those days; she won the GS and SG titles) at Sunapee Mountain and J1 nationals at Lake Placid’s Whiteface. She was a split-second away, at 15, from qualifying for the second run in slalom at Waterville; by the end of the day, she was in Lake Placid.
She decided last fall the 2006 Olympic season would be her last. However, she partially tore a ligament in her right knee during training Feb. 4 in Ofterschwang, Germany, and was limited to the first run of the Olympic slalom – three seconds out. There was speculation Koznick – one of the most popular skiers on the tour, and an easy quote machine for the media with her easy way – might stick around for another season. She put a bullet in that theory Sunday.
"Y’know, life’s too short. I can’t hold onto something because I didn’t achieve all my goals. It doesn’t mean I was going to achieve them just because I hung around," she reasoned.
She had surgery and has rehabbed daily since the spring, continuing to prepare for the ’07 if she decided to return. But, as she set about planning for her September wedding to longtime personal coach Dan Stripp, things fell into place to walk away without regret from ski racing.
Stripp will start a job as a juniors coach in Vail, Colo., next month, so she’ll still have the mountain environment, Koznick said, and she’s looking for opportunities to stay in the racing scene, whether as a TV commentator, perhaps a sometime journalist or even as a coach.
"I don’t know. Retirement’s still new, but I’m ready to try something else. We’ll see what’s out there."
At one point several years ago, Koznick was playing softball for three teams in the Twin Cities during the summer. She returned this week to playing for one team, obviously slowed by the knee rehab but tickled to be back on a ball field.
"I used to play just about every night, but I think I’m probably the least intensive player on the team this time," she said. "It’s fun to be back."
It’s far too early, she said, to look back at her career but that will come in time.
"I see a little more about what I didn’t achieve and maybe as time goes on I’ll see what I did achieve. I mean, I know I was the top U.S. slalom skier over 10 years, so that says a lot about my career, but it hasn’t sunk in…yet.
"Any athlete wants to be better, and to do better, and I’m still in that frame of mind. I haven’t gotten to the point of reflecting. Maybe after a year and I can see from a distance. …I know I accomplished a lot, but when you’re living it, it’s hard to see it sometimes."
As she was growing up, Koznick said, she had mixed emotions while growing up and seeing the poor behavior of some champion athletes; she wanted to be a winner but, Koznick said she told her mother, "’I don’t want to be like them – they don’t seem so nice…
"Maybe that’s part of the reason I didn’t accomplish all my goals, but if I had to choose between achieving my goals and being who I am – being approachable, being down to Earth, I’m glad I stayed who I am."