Originally created 03/14/98

Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street breaks leg in crash



CRANS MONTANA, Switzerland -- Picabo Street sacrificed a second Olympic gold medal last month rather than reinjure her left leg. On Friday she realized her worst fears in her last race of the season: She broke it.

Street lost control on a jump and her left ski released from the binding upon impact with the icy racing surface. She flew into the safety netting and then grabbed her left leg, screaming in pain.

"She came off the jump and she was fine. Then she sat back coming out of a turn and crashed about 50 meters below me," said Herwig Demschar, coach of the U.S. women's team who was standing alongside the downhill course.

"The first skier went down fine. Picabo looked good after the jump but then she sat back and crashed."

Street underwent nearly three hours of surgery so doctors could set her femur bone and secure it with a metal plate screwed into the bone, said Patrick Ravussin, chief anesthesiologist at the Hospital de Champsec in Sion, about 20 miles from the race site.

"We put one plate and 8-10 screws in her femur," said Dr. Robert Scheinberg of Dallas, who was with the U.S. team for this season-ending weekend of races and assisted in the operation.

"She also sprained her right knee and sustained bruising to her right arm," Scheinberg said.

Ravussin said Street had spoken to her mother by phone prior to her operation.

Street might return to the United States as early as next week but there was no immediate word on how long she would be off skis. Ravussin suggested only that it would be "many months."

Both Demschar and Gian Franco Kasper, executive director of the International Ski Federation, said course conditions did not cause the accident. The race had been postponed for two days by fog.

The 26-year-old Street's unlikely victory in the Olympic super-G race in Japan came only 14 months after reconstructive surgery on her left knee.

But after winning the gold, Street skied an uncharacteristically cautious race in the downhill, her best event. Afterward, she admitted the idea of reinjuring the leg was on her mind.

"I just didn't want to risk anything," she said after finishing sixth. "I've hit the fence too many times this year."

It didn't help that the skier who went just ahead of her, Austria's Renate Goetschl, the World Cup champion, fell in the downhill and held up the race while she was helped from the course.

"I was nervous that she got hurt, because I just hate injuries," Street said at the Olympics.

And, just before Nagano, Street crashed during a World Cup race at Are, Sweden, when a ski released from the binding and she was thrown into the safety nets. She emerged with a slight concussion and a sore neck -- but no knee damage. None was reported after Friday's race, either.

"It looked pretty nasty with the helicopter and all," Canadian skier Melanie Turgeon said. "All the coaches were around her and she was kind of in a fetal position."

Kasper said he believed Street fell because she "made a mistake" and not because of the course. And Demschar said race conditions "didn't come into play."

"The course is nothing spectacular; we've done more scary things than this course," Demschar said. "It was just one of those things that happens."

The downhill races had been rescheduled repeatedly for two days and finally started after fog lifted Friday afternoon. The men's race went off smoothly.

Only one racer came down before Street, Olympic super-G silver medalist Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria. Visibility was not perfect, but conditions were deemed safe to race.

"Maybe it was all that waiting," Germany's Martina Ertl, runner-up in the World Cup overall standings, said of the four-hour delay in starting. "It makes your concentration falter."

Organizers immediately canceled the downhill following Street's fall, saying there was not enough time to restart the race.