U.S. Alpine Skier Picabo Street looks to return to prominence at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after recovering from two bad knee injuries: a torn right anterior cruciate ligament and shredded left femur, that she suffered one month after winning the 1998 Olympic super giant slalom gold medal.
Picabo Street has been skiing since she was five years old and has put together an incomparable medal-winning career. But at the Winter Olympics, Street will be in a position that she has never faced before: that of an underdog.
Street joined the U.S. Ski Team in 1988 and has become the face of women's skiing in America. But after tearing a knee ligament, Street missed two years of World Cup competition. Rehabilitation and her competitive drive make Street not only healthy, but in good enough shape, physically, to compete at the Olympics.
"My health is good actually, really good. I've got some imbalances that I am still working on, soft tissue-wise, to get totally ready to go," she says. "But I am really strong, and the stronger I get the safer I feel, if you will, on my skis. I feel like I can take more risks. It's all about balance and we [I] have it. I feel really balanced right now. That's a place I used to get when I was really dominant."
Picabo Street is the only American, male or female, to win the World Cup downhill crown. As a matter of fact, she won it twice, in 1995 and '96. Street dominated the World Cup during the 1995-96 season as she won six straight races.
Street also has an unparalleled medal collection. In addition to the 1998 gold medal in Nagano, Street won gold in the downhill and bronze in the super giant slalom at the 1996 World Championships in Spain. She also won the silver medal in the downhill at the 1994 Olympics and the combined event, downhill and slalom, at the 1993 World Championships in Japan.
Those races were great for Street, but she could not pass up the chance to compete in the final race of her career at the Olympics, at home, in America.
"I definitely would not have gone through what I went through as rigorously. So, I would have done the therapy part but not with as much excitement on board as I did knowing that it was for the Olympics and to have it to be in my backyard," she says. " It is beyond a dream come true, it is one of those dreams you never had. Here I am presented with the chance of a lifetime. And so whatever happens here, it is going to be wonderful."
Picabo Street did not get the chance to carry the U.S. flag at the 1998 Olympics because she was recovering from an injury. This year, however, carrying the U.S. flag into Rice-Eccles Stadium, is one of her main desires.
"I think being a good person and working hard and hopefully having success on my skis will help with it, but I want to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies," says Picabo. " It would be a really great chance to show my patriotism. That would be the cherry on top of a really amazing career."
The U.S. flagbearer is selected by fellow-Olympic team athletes.
The long, painful rehabilitation that Street endured led her to conclude that she does not think that she will be in contention for a medal at what will be her final Olympic appearance. However, Picabo said she would be just as happy rooting on her teammates in Salt Lake City as she was when she won gold in Nagano.
But if her fifth and sixth place finishes at the World Cup races November 29 and 30 in Canada, at Lake Louise, Alberta are any indication, Street might not be that far away from getting back up to the medal stand. And, those were her first races of the season. Once Street completes her training in Europe and America, she could be that much more dangerous.
At the 1998 Olympics, Street was the only member of the U.S. Alpine skiing team to win a medal. Four years later, she is in the fight of her life to make the team. Who could have imagined that? Nobody. And that is why Street is so determined to show that she can beat the odds, and she can thrive whether she is the favorite or the underdog.
"If I win a medal, it'll be almost too much to ask. I'll be paranoid about what I have to do for the rest of my life to feel as though I've earned it," she says.
Street idolizes track star Marion Jones, one of the top performers in the Sydney Olympics, for what she did as an athlete and as a woman.
I tend to identify with athletes that put a big feat out there and then accomplish it. They kind of tell the world what they are going to do and then go ahead and do it.
After suffering the devastating knee injury, which would lead some athletes to get frustrated and retire, Picabo Street made the U.S. Olympic team. Although she did not qualify to compete in the Super Giant Slalom, Street hopes to win a medal in the downhill competition and is giving everything she has to make that lofty goal, a reality.