Originally created 12/18/97

Big step for Street on long road back



VAL D'ISERE, France -- In a clear signal her best skiing may not be far away, Picabo Street returned to World Cup racing Wednesday and her coach was "ecstatic" over her performance.

America's best skier finished 10th in a downhill in her first start in more than a year following knee surgery.

"I knew that I could trust myself physically," she said. "I knew mentally I had the confidence, but I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how fast I was going to be going."

With her ponytail flapping, Street surged down the course and raised her fist after finishing her race, which temporarily put her in first place.

The Sun Valley, Idaho, skier was timed in 2 minutes, 3.85 seconds in a race in which Katja Seizinger of Germany rallied in the second run to win in 2:01.82 for her fifth consecutive victory.

"My goal today was to finish in the top 10 and I accomplished my goal," Street said. "I'm extremely happy. I think I am a little bit surprised from the snow conditions that I was able to ski as well as I did. I was feeling better every run, changing things, fixing things but I am really happy."

U.S. women's downhill coach Jim Tracy said Street's showing was the first step in a long process.

"She turned some heads today," he said. "A few coaches came to me and said, `It won't be long.' Even if she gets on the podium next time, we still have to be patient."

The Sun Valley, Idaho, skier won the World Cup downhill title for two consecutive years and took the 1996 world championship before tearing ligaments in her left knee in a Dec. 4, 1996 crash during practice in Vail, Colo.

Street admits being tense at the top of the practice run Tuesday, her first official effort against a clock. But once she got going, everything went well.

"There is no problem with the knee," she said. "Sometimes when it's cold, I feel a it a little bit. But it just needs to be warmed up and warm up the muscles around it so it doesn't tighten up. ... The speed was right. that's what I was concerned with. Just making sure I could relax and have control over it."

She was less than a second behind the leaders in the first run and only Seizinger beat her by more than a second on the second run in a race in which wind and snow forced organizers to shorten the course and reduce the drop.

Seizinger appears to have no rivals now. She has won three straight downhills and two straight super-Gs. One time Street won six downhills in a row over two seasons.

Hilde Gerg of Germany was second in 2:02.31. First-run leader Ingeborg Helen Marken was third in 2:02.44. French skiers took the next three spots: Melanie Suchet (2:03.02), Regine Cavagnoud (2:03.20) and Carole Montillet (2:03.44).

Two women's races were called off at this venue last week and events set for Veysonnaz, Switzerland, were moved to Val d'Isere. The last time the women raced was in a Lake Louise, Alberta, super-G Dec. 6.

A super-G is set for Thursday, with a giant slalom, slalom and combined on Friday.