Originally created 02/12/02

Picabo Street reaches for gold one more time



SALT LAKE CITY -- She's already been shot down twice in the past week in her quest to stand on the top step.

   Picabo Street admits it. She lobbied hard among teammates and USOC officials to be named the flagbearer who would lead the United States team into the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. In an even more perfect world, she would have stood on the ultimate Olympic step as the person to light the Olympic torch.

She only got close.

  Street, a two-time Olympic medalist and the only American skier (male or female) to win a World Cup downhill championship, combined with hockey gold medalist Cammi Granato to run the last steps to the top of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

There they handed the torch to Mike Euruzione and the members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" hockey team who finished the job.

  Today, Picabo Street will make what likely will be her final quest for the top step, the one atop the awards stands when the Olympic medals in the women's downhill are presented.

  "I'm prepared to risk everything. I have nothing to lose," America's most decorated and best compensated skier told a press gathering last week. "There is no reason to hold back."

  But even though she won the gold medal winner in the 1998 Super G at Nagano and was a silver medalist in the '94 Lillehammer downhill, Street is not the favorite in Tuesday's plunge down the Grizzly course at Snowbasin. At the age of 30 and probably facing her final major skiing competition, Street may be hard- pressed to reach the podium in the Olympic Medals Plaza.

  A poor World Cup season failed to earn her a spot in the U.S. Super G lineup, leaving the downhill as Street's last hope. If she has an edge at all, it will be in racing on a familiar course near her home in Park City.

 "I think some of (her competitors) are scared to be in America, which is huge for me," she said, clearly trying to play mind games with her opponents.

  "I'm home and not afraid to be here. A lot of them eat differently, they're in another time zone. Most of them are carrying their country on their shoulders. As a North American team, we should have an advantage."

  Besides, the skiing world has learned never to count out Picabo Street.

  She should have received a 10-count in 1998 when, just 14 months before the Nagano Olympics, she tore the ACL in her left knee in a racing mishap at Vail. Her recovery took almost a year. Fully healthy again, Street then sustained a concussion in another fall just a week before the Japan games. She still went on to win the Super G.

 Just a month after her victory, Street crashed again. This time she blew out her right knee and broke her left femur in four places.

  The resulting surgeries did more than leave scars. Street, the woman who had come to represent American skiing to fans and advertisers alike, wondered if shewould ever race again.

  But the prospect of an American Olympics ‹ one in her new hometown, no less ‹ kept her motivated through a longer, even more difficult rehabilitation process.

  "I didn't want to just watch the Olympics in my own country," she said. "I wanted to participate. I wanted to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremonies, and I want to compete.

  "I don't even necessarily want to win, even though (I'm) going to be a definite contender for a medal. But it's more to regain the control I feel I've lost in the sport."

  Anxious to go out on her terms and as close to the top step as she can get, Street says her muddled medical past will not deter her from going full blast down Wildflower, one of the steepest courses on the World Cup circuit.It's a course on which Street won the only pre-Olympic test race held last year.

  "It may be hard to believe, but I'm really not afraid when to race downhill anymore," she said last week. "I feel comfortable, I'm addicted to the speed again."

 Even if she doesn't become the first American to win three Olympic skiing medals, the never bashful Street already likes her place in American skiing history. Just ask her.

 "As an American skier, I've kind of walked intoc an open powder-field," she said in an NBC interview. "I've left some big footsteps out there. To win another medal here would add some more footsteps. And to be honest, I hope someone comes along and walks in them.

 "But I always shoot high. This would be the cherry on top of a really amazing career for me."