Two 24-year-old women tower over the sport of Alpine skiing: Anja Paerson of Sweden and Janica Kostelic of Croatia. Between them, they won all five gold medals at the 2005 world championships. And if either is on record pace for accumulating medals at the Turin Olympics, the giant slalom will draw even more attention because it's the final Alpine event for women. The giant slalom is classified as a technical event, played out on a course that is longer, with its gates set farther apart, than the slalom. Skiers makes two runs on the same slope, but over different courses, on the same day. The medals go to the skiers with the best combined time. Kostelic won gold in the giant slalom in 2002; Paerson took silver.
Considered a technical specialist early in her career, Paerson has worked hard to diversify her skills since the Salt Lake Games and has been rewarded with back-to-back World Cup overall titles. Fans love her celebratory head-first slide into the finish area after particularly spectacular victories. Kostelic was the star of the 2002 Olympics, winning four medals (three gold and one silver). Like Paerson, she's a two-time winner of the World Cup overall title.
While Paerson and Kostelic will be favorites going in, a pair of Austrians -- Marlies Schild and Nicole Hosp -- could just as easily dominate. America's best hopes rest on Julia Mancuso, 21, of Truckee, Calif., who won bronze in the GS at the 2005 world championships in Bormio. Italian flags fly when Mancuso skis in Italy because of her last name. Mancuso doesn't speak Italian, however, and is somewhat sketchy about her family's roots in the country, offering as evidence of her Italian lineage: "We cook with lots of olive oil." jumps.