It was the morning of 25 November 2001 in the fashionable American winter resort of Aspen. The end of the first slalom race of the World Cup was near. At the start, with the number 64 on his chest, was Ivica Kostelić from Zagreb, at the time a relatively unknown Croatian skier. Kostelić took a risk and started boldly, knowing all too well this was the only way he could achieve a good result.

Perhaps the fact that he had celebrated his 22nd birthday two days prior, but also the memory of the accident from last season contributed to his courage. The season prior, Ivica was successful in collecting slalom points, but during his practice for the giant slalom he seriously injured his knee and had to undergo surgery and . For him, the season was over. He began training again in April and entered the 2001/02 World Cup with great optimism. He won his first points in the giant slalom and ranked 28th, hoping for an equally good result in the first slalom of the season.

Now on the slope in Aspen, both the injury and recovery, as well as his hopes for success in the new season were but subconscious elements in his fight with the ski gates. With a high starting number, Ivica entered the finish line a great seventh, 85 hundredths of a second behind the leading Austrian Mario Matt. He had been similarly successful before in his first runs, but dreams of top rankings would regularly burst after the second run. However, Kostelić did not let those statistics get to him.

He entered the second run with equal determination, and when everyone, except for the Croatian fans of course, expected him to fail under the pressure, Ivica had a great run along the entire slope and achieved the best time, with 12 hundredths of a second ahead of the Italian Giorgi Rocca and Matt, who was 19 hundredths of a second behind.

The first-class sensation or, as it was called at the time - the "Miracle in Aspen", did not seem real to Kostelić himself at first. "It is becoming increasingly clear to me what a feat this was. I'm looking at the guy with the number 64 on the podium and I can’t believe he’s standing there. But he does look really good, doesn't he?” said Ivica after the race, celebrating the triumph in a T-shirt with the inscription "I am not a genius".

Ivica would reaffirm his brilliant victory the following day, again in the slalom, by winning fifth place, now with the much better starting number of 23. By now he had definitely ranked among the top slalom skiers, and by the end of the season he would end up among the top ten in all slaloms. At the end of the season in Flachau, Austria, in a showdown with his direct competitors - Bode Miller and Jean-Pierre Vidal, he won the Small Crystal Globe, as the best slalom skier of the season.

In the following years, Kostelić specialized in and the events, but was one of the few skiers who won points in all events. In the 2011/2012 season, his versatility allowed him to win the crystal globe as well as four silver medals at the . However, with his "miracle in Aspen", this Zagreb local still holds a very special kind of record - a slalom victory with the highest starting number.

Header image credit: Boris Kovačev / CROPIX