Kristina Koznick is unique to Olympic ski racing. She's an "is but isn't."

She is not a part of the U.S. ski program but is a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.

She races as an American, but she does not train with the team, is not funded by the team and apart from meeting at races, does not travel with the team.

In fact, over the summer she trained with the Norwegian team.

She is as independent as an Olympic team member can be.

For her, she said with certainty in her voice, "Ski racing is an individual sport. What I'm doing works for me. Will it work for everyone? No way." In fact, it hasn't worked for anyone else ? not this well, anyway.

The Mahre brothers, Steve and Phil, often trained independently but still worked under the direction of the U.S. Ski Team.

Yet, despite her independence, she is, next to Bode Miller, considered America's best candidate for a medal.

Last week, Koznick posted her first WC win of the season, tying for the gold with Marlies Oester of Switzerland in a slalom in Berchtesgaden, Germany. In the last four WC slaloms, he has a first, two seconds and a fourth.

Two years ago, Koznick opted to give up the comforts of being an "A" member of the U.S. team and followed her departing coach, Dan Shipp. It was, she recalled at the time, one of her most difficult decisions.

And, rightly so. She was left with scheduling her own flights, planning her own menu, hiring whatever peripheral help she needed, and then writing a check out of her own account to pay for all of it.

It also meant she and Shipp had to write her personal training program.

And that, she said, she liked. "Because it's my program, I can mold and push the program in whatever direction my coaches and I think is best in order to be ready for the next race and the Olympics."

Now, two years later, who can argue? Her giant slalom results are not particularly good, but she's No. 2 in the world in slalom. Only Laure Pequegnot of France has earned more points.

She can do it this way, said Shipp, "Because she knows where she is and what she wants. It's good to know where you are.

"Training with the Norwegians over the summer helped. They are among the best. If she was close in training, she knew she was skiing well. If she was behind, she knew she had to work harder . . . and she did."

It is unlikely at this point she will reach her pre-season goal, which was winning an overall World Cup title.

She had hoped to do better in the giant slalom. For the past several seasons, chronic back pains limited her training to slalom, she said. The pains are gone now and she worked hard over the summer on her GS as well as her slalom skiing. But, despite her determination, she simply hasn't had the high finishes she'd hoped for. Her first top-10 finish came Thursday. She finished 9th in a GS in Are, Sweden.

She could, easily, however, win the slalom title.

And while everyone else may project her winning the Olympic slalom on the strength of her WC season, she doesn't.

"The Olympics is one race. A World Cup title takes results of 10 races.

To her, they're totally separate. She prepares for them differently.

"To win a World Cup title you need to be consistent, to simply finish in the top three will usually be enough. In the Olympics it comes down to two runs ? one race. She wants to win a medal. She wanted to go into the Olympics with a possibility of winning a medal,"

And, it appears she'd done just that ? doing it her way.

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