February 14, 2015

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) Longtime ski racer Ivica Kostelic of Croatia has almost gone through as many knee surgeries as World Cup seasons.

The 35-year-old no longer has meniscus or cartilage in his right knee. But who needs soft tissue when you're after the hardware? Apparently not Kostelic, a four-time Olympic silver medalist who's looking for his first world championships title in more than a decade Sunday in the slalom.

Kostelic has endured 15 knee operations - two on his left knee and 13 more on the right, including four ACL reconstructions.

''I'm the leader for all the knee people in the world,'' laughed Kostelic, who's competing in his eighth world championships in Beaver Creek.

His last name is familiar in ski circles. After all, his father and coach, Ante, is renowned for setting some of the wildest and most challenging courses in professional skiing. His younger sister, Janica, is the only female skier to win four Olympic gold medals.

Of course, he's no slouch, either. Ivica Kostelic won the 2011 overall World Cup title, 26 World Cup races, three medals at worlds - one of every color, including gold in the slalom at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003 - and those four Olympic silver medals.

''I love skiing more than anything else,'' Kostelic said. ''I've lived this life since I was 7. I don't know any other life. I don't believe that there was ever greater love than between me and skiing.''

Even through all the knee pain.

Every turn brings bone-on-bone twinges. Giant slalom is the worst, which is why Kostelic skipped the event. He's also scaled back on downhill and super-G races, but tried the super-G at worlds, only to miss a gate and not finish. He finished 12th in the Alpine combined, but his knee hurt.

To combat the pain, he routinely receives Cortisone shots. He's tried stem-cell regeneration and constantly takes painkillers. Every experimental remedy in existence- and within the rules - he's tried it.

''With so much medicine, I can't believe it's starting to hurt more and more, that it's working less and less,'' said Kostelic, whose first World Cup victory in 2001 was down the road in Aspen, when he charged to the slalom win from bib No. 64.

Kostelic has no plans to retire just yet, but hopes that limiting his skiing now will mean that he will be able to live an active life once he does stop racing.

''This is important for me, so when I quit, I can still walk normally and run,'' Kostelic said.

The slalom race Sunday is Kostelic's last hope for a medal - possibly ever.

''Slalom is still going,'' Kostelic said. ''This is the discipline where I have the least pain. It's hard to let it go. I love skiing and want to stay in it as long as I can. That's why I'm still trying.''

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