Ups And Downs
At age sixteen, Kostelic competed in five events at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Her eighth-place finish in the combined was the best ever by a Croatian in the Winter Games. The following year, she earned her first World Cup victory—and its $50,000 purse—but then missed most of the season after tearing four ligaments in her right knee while training in St. Moritz. "The extra work required to get fit again, including long-distance running, cycling, gymnastics and even free diving, made her stronger," Kate Noble reported in Sports Illustrated. Kostelic returned for the 2000-01 World Cup season and dominated the field. At one point, she won eight straight slalom races. She finished the season as the overall World Cup champion—the fourthyoungest woman ever to do so.
Kostelic was the overwhelming favorite to win gold at the 2001 World Championships, but a fall cost her the combined event and she finished fifth in the slalom. She was devastated; Ante Kostelic was quoted saying his daughter was quitting the sport. At the same time, Janica was coping with chronic knee problems, which some observers contended were the result of the demanding training she had endured since early childhood. (Ivica has similar knee problems.) Surgeons operated on her left knee twice, in the spring and summer of 2001, but the pain lingered. During a third operation doctors discovered and removed a piece of floating cartilage. Janica was back in training in October and returned to the World Cup circuit in November.