Skiing out of Picabo's shadow

Montillet wins gold

Street finishes run

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 13, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

OGDEN, Utah - When the roars finally died down, and the last of the cheers echoed off the snowy mountain peaks, the 16th-place finisher put her arms around her mother and cried.

On her right cheek, she had painted a red, white and blue heart, and when she hugged her father, a tear ran across it. She held tightly to her brother and friends, niece and godson. But when Picabo Street finally looked up, and there was no one left to hug, all she could do was smile.

It was that kind of day yesterday at Snowbasin, where results mattered, but only so much.

France's Carole Montillet became the first French woman to win gold in the Olympic downhill, racing a near-perfect run in 1 minute, 39.56 seconds. Montillet, who was not favored to win, dedicated her victory to close friend and teammate Regine Cavagnoud, who was killed during an October ski accident in Austria.

"I raced for myself today," Montillet said. "Regine is gone and life goes on. But I know that she helped me today. I know that she was with me."

For Street, who started wonderfully but faded late on the Wildflower course, it was goodbye. It was the final race in a career that was as memorable as it was successful. Street was attempting to become the only American skier to win three Olympic medals, but couldn't pull off the magic final act, finishing well behind medal contention with a time of 1:41.17.

"I gave it all I had today, and what I had wasn't good enough for a medal," Street said. "But it was a wonderful last day of my career. I don't feel disappointed at all. In my eyes and my heart, qualifying for the Olympics felt like winning a gold medal."

Italy's Isolde Kostner earned the silver medal with a time of 1:40.01, and Austria's Renate Goeschl won the bronze, finishing in 1:40.39.

"To tell the truth, I was a bit surprised [Montillet] skied so well," said Kostner. "I didn't fear her or even really think about her. But that's part of the Olympics."

Street was hoping to pull off the surprise that Montillet did, but at the end of the day she wasn't even the fastest American. U.S. teammates Jonna Mendes (11th) and Kirsten Clark (12th) both posted better times, though neither made a serious run at a medal.

"I think our team is probably a little bit disappointed," said Clark. "We probably didn't ski as well as we could of, but that's OK."

No one needed the uplifting victory quite like Montillet. When Cavagnoud was killed after slamming into a German trainer during a practice run, Montillet became overwhelmed by the constant questions about her deceased friend. She even traveled to the United States a week before the Olympics to avoid having to talk about Cavagnoud with French media.

"It was very difficult to constantly answer questions about Regine at every race," Montillet said. "I felt like I lost some of my identity as a result."

Street is no stranger to new beginnings. Only months after winning gold in the Super-G at the Nagano Olympics, she mangled her right knee and broke her left femur in a horrific crash that could have easily ended her career. Street said afterward her main goal was just to get back to the Olympics for one last run down the mountain, made even more special by the fact that it would come in front of the home crowd. In the process, she renewed a relationship with God, became closer to her family and gained some perspective.

"I've spent a lot of years early in my career as a narrow-minded individual," Street said. "Since my injury, I grew as a person. I was worried I'd become a 30-year-old selfish individual, and I've come out of that."

She had to, in fact. Street's mother Dee has been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus over the past year, which made it difficult for her to even watch her daughter ski at times. What Street wanted more than anything was to have her family see her in one last Olympics.

"My mom trained for the Olympics so she could walk up and sit in the stadium for the entire race," Street said.

It was difficult, Street said, to call it a career after yesterday. But it was time. The freckle-faced girl who had set the skiing world on its ear at age 21 had become a woman. And it was time, Street said, to find out who she was once she took off the skis.

"Ski racing has defined me for the last 25 years of my life," she said. "I know there's a different person that's going to surface now. I'm really excited to meet that person."

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