Paerson finds a calmer route to her 3rd Olympics

GENEVA (AP) — With five Olympic medals and seven world titles, Anja Paerson knows how to perform on Alpine skiing's biggest stages.

The Vancouver Games could be her swansong, and the 28-year-old Swede, who has yet to commit to come back next season, is determined to savor the occasion.

"It's those weeks when you have the big chance to shine, to have fun, to enjoy it," Paerson said. "The Olympics is one of those things where you cheer for other people, too, and you're a team."

Paerson certainly will arrive in Vancouver under less pressure then in Turin four years ago. As the two-time defending overall World Cup champion there were high expectations back home for an expected duel with Croatia's Janica Kostelic.

"The nation of Sweden, they pushed me for five medals," Paerson said. "This year I think they're a little bit calmer. I'm not even favorite for the medals in Sweden; that's (biathlete) Helena Jonsson. I'm coming from behind. Hopefully that can help me a little bit."

Four years ago, Paerson and Kostelic each got a single gold, in slalom and combined respectively, as Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister swept the two speed events.

This time, a new generation of stars — 25-year-olds Lindsey Vonn of the United States and Maria Riesch of Germany — will absorb much of the attention for their head-to-head series, while Paerson quietly applies the lessons she learned in Turin.

"I'm approaching this rather different because I'm four years older," she said. "I know exactly what I have to do to be great and successful at the Olympics. I need to challenge myself to be better."

The process starts this week in rural Sweden where Paerson has returned with her inner circle of friends to recapture the rhythm of preparations for the 2007 World Championships in Are. There she delighted her home fans and made ski history when she won gold medals in the opening downhill, super-combined and super-G races, completing a career set of world titles in all five events.

"I'm going to have a house there with some friends. Same place. Make them cook for me and make them spoil me as much as they can," she said last weekend at St. Moritz. "It's going to be about harmony and having fun."

The Swiss resort, where she always seems to win, was the perfect spot for Paerson to boost her confidence in the final World Cup meet before the games.

She got her first victory in over a year and in super-combined, suggesting her all-around skills — and knees — are in good shape after not earning a top-3 finish until January.

"Many people believe that it's a bad season. I just hadn't got a victory and now I got one," she said, after treating spectators to her trademark bodysurf dive in celebration across the finish area snow.

"If I get a medal or I win a gold at the Olympics then I can say this victory was probably very important."

Paerson said she feels strong, though her knees display the wear and tear of 325 World Cup starts, two Olympics and six world championships.

"If you don't know me and you see my meniscus you wouldn't think that I would ski," she revealed. "I've got a lot of fluid in my knee that doesn't want to go away."

Paerson is undecided if she will return for another year on the circuit.

With 41 career World Cup wins, she is fourth all-time and leads all active skiers, though Vonn is fast closing the gap with 31.

"I'm positive for it, but I'm not deciding until I really feel 100 percent," Paerson said.

A successful Olympics on Whistler Mountain might help make up her mind.


AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, contributed to this report.