Street plans a farewell most fond

Back from major injury, retiring alpine skier sets sights on enjoying games

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 11, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

OGDEN, Utah - Over the past decade or so, the world has watched Picabo Street laugh, cry, crash and soar.

Today, it will watch her take a final curtain call.

Whether she does it with a medal around her neck will be up to Street, who is retiring from competitive skiing after these Olympics. She isn't the favorite to win the women's downhill today, but if there is one thing Street has proved in the past, it's that betting against her is a bad idea.

"Anything can happen in a downhill," said Street, 30. "If God blesses me with another medal, then thank you, Lord. If he doesn't, then hopefully [one of my teammates] will get up there. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose."

It's not as if Street hasn't danced to this song before. In 1998, she was virtually forgotten coming into the games in Nagano, Japan, because she was still shaky and recovering from a severe knee injury about a year before. But all she did was win a gold medal in the super-G and finish sixth in the downhill.

She didn't qualify in the super-G this time, but the downhill has always been her best event for one reason: It's all or nothing for her.

"It's going to be a big day," said Street, a two-time World Cup downhill champion who also won silver in event at the 1994 Olympics. "I've visualized that last run a couple times already. I just have to go after it. If I don't prevail, I'm sure I'll have some emotions, but once it's done, I'll leave them on the hill."

The pressure is still on her, favorite or not. Since breaking into the spotlight by capturing two straight overall Nor Am crowns in 1990 and 1991 - again on the heels of a serious knee operation - Street has been one of the biggest names in alpine skiing. After her third major knee injury and a broken femur during a post-Olympic crash in 1998 caused her to miss 33 months of competition, it's amazing she's made it back even this far.

As a result, Street will be enjoying things before she rides off into the sunset for good.

"In Nagano, I was really focused," she said. "I went to the Olympic Village only to do my processing. It's different this time around. I promised myself I'm going to enjoy the Olympics again like I did in Lillehammer."

That means putting on a show as much as it does skiing well. Street, who will never be accused of being a wallflower, will wear a special helmet for the race. One side will feature a painting of the Statue of Liberty, the other a pair of F-16 fighter planes. Street's high school art teacher did the painting, which took more than eight hours.

"I really wanted to pay a tribute to the Air Force, to thank them," Street said. "I got to go flying in a jet in June and did 9.1 Gs for 15 seconds. It was one of the biggest thrills I've ever had."

A win by Street would be storybook material. A win by Italian Isolde Kostner or Austrians Michaela Dorfmeister and Renate Goetschl would be much more likely. All three have had consistent success on the World Cup circuit this year, something Street has not. Goetschl, the fastest skier during the training runs, is making her third appearance in the Olympics. Americans Caroline Lalive and Jonna Mendes also will be in the hunt for a medal.

"In Nagano, I was 18 and kind of tried to get the full Olympic experience," Mendes said. "I met a lot of other athletes and checked out the other events, so I feel like I've done that. I'm just here this time to ski fast and win a medal."

Said Lalive: "I feel like I've gained a lot of confidence and experience that's going to help me. It's exciting to have the Olympics on home turf, and I know that anything can happen."

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