Does exit by Street lead to dead end?

Women downhill skiers on U.S. team trying to escape her shadow

Winter Olympics : Salt Lake City 2002

February 17, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

OGDEN, Utah -- For the past decade, in America's eyes, the sun only shined on one female downhill skier: Picabo Street. Anyone else was just a name, and not much more.

Ready or not, that era ended last week when Street skied her final competitive race, finishing 16th in the downhill. She didn't qualify for the U.S. team in the super-G, an event she won at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, so she won't be around to defend her title at Snowbasin today at 10 a.m.

The biggest beneficiaries of Street's retirement will likely be a quartet of Americans -- Caroline Lalive, Jonna Mendes, Kirsten Clark and Kathleen Monahan. It hasn't been easy for any of them to make a name for themselves skiing in Street's shadow, something that may have caused a bit of tension the past few years when Street's results didn't live up to her billing.

"I don't think without Picabo we'll be nobodies," Lalive said after the downhill Tuesday. "We've got a lot of good athletes on this team, and it's kind of unfortunate that Picabo gets all the attention."

Lalive, however, hasn't done much to help her cause. After saying she expected big things from herself in these Olympics, Lalive crashed in the downhill Tuesday, then wrecked again during her first slalom run in Thursday's combined event.

It was the seventh consecutive time she has failed to even finish a race in the Olympics or the world championships, not an impressive statistic for someone considered the best overall skier on the U.S. women's team.

"I don't know the number, but whatever it is, we've got to keep charging," said U.S. women's coach Marian Cernigoj. "We've got to keep trying to overcome this. We know she's a great skier. She'll overcome these problems and keep going, and that's what we want from her."

Lalive, a 22-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colo., was the only U.S. woman to score World Cup points in all five disciplines this year. She finished seventh in the combined at the Nagano Olympics, but has been struggling with injuries since.

"She's having troubles right now," said teammate Lindsey Kildow, who finished sixth in the combined Thursday. "She's the best person in the world. I want her to win so bad, but things don't always work out. That's just how things go."

With Lalive's struggles, the onus may fall on Clark or Mendes to step up and make an impact in Street's absence. Clark, 24, was the highest-ranked American in the super-G in the World Cup standings this year, and Mendes, 22, is just beginning to realize her potential.

The favorite today should be Austrian Renate Goetschl, who will be trying to complete a medal sweep with a gold in the super-G. Goetschl owns a bronze from the downhill and snagged a silver in the combined. France's Carole Montillet, Germany's Hilde Gerg and Croatia's Janica Kostelic will be threats as well.

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