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Snowbasin, Utah Feb. 13, 2002 (AP by Bob Baum)–With kisses for the crowd and a few tears, Picabo Street said goodbye to ski racing. She left with no final victory–and no regrets.
“If I were to die and come back tomorrow, I’d do it all over again,” she said, “and I’d do it exactly the same.”
Carole Montillet of France was the surprise winner in the women’s downhill at the Salt Lake City Olympics, a race finally run after being postponed by high winds on Monday and delayed for two hours on Tuesday. Two of the prerace favorites, Isolde Kostner of Italy and Renate Goetschl of Austria, won the silver and the bronze.
Street was 16th, the third-fastest American behind Jonna Mendes (12th) and Kirsten Clark (13th).
Still, Street was the show, drawing cheers from a big crowd that appreciated the way she fought back from of a series of severe leg injuries to give it one more Olympic try.
This was why, she explained, she had come back after breaking her left leg and mangling her right knee in a crash at Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1998, just a month after winning the Olympic gold medal in the super giant slalom.
She couldn’t resist an Olympic downhill just an hour’s drive from her Park City home, “to end my career in the USA with the crowd cheering louder for me than anybody else.”
A star-spangled, red-white-and-blue heart painted on her right cheek, Street kissed the snow at the top of the Wildflower Course, and blew kisses to the big, cheering crowd at the finish. She grabbed a microphone and thanked the crowd and her parents.
“The last four years have been about coming into the finish and hearing the Americans’ roar, and see the kids’ faces painted with `USA’ on them, just the pride of being an American and being an Olympian,” she said later.
It was fitting, Street said, that Montillet would win the gold for a French team coping with the death of its star skier, Regine Cavagnoud, in a training accident in October.
“I cannot imagine having to ski losing any one of my teammates,” Street said. “I don’t know if I could have done it, to be honest.”
Montillet, though, seemed simply weary of being asked about Cavagnoud. The two were rivals more than friends. She had gone to San Diego the week before the Olympics to escape all the pestering questions.
“I raced for myself. Regine is gone so life goes on,” Montillet said. “Of course, it was very difficult for the French team, particularly for me. I had a very difficult time this winter.”
“However, I know she helped because I know she was with me,” she added.
Montillet, known more for her super giant slalom success, has never won a World Cup downhill. Still, she produced a flawless Olympic run, one so smooth that she said it “felt easy.”
Now an Olympic champion, she hopes to put the Cavagnoud issue to rest.
“Whether I had a good result or a bad one, everything always referred to Regine’s accident and that was very difficult for me because I was beginning to feel I had lost my own identity,” she said. “Today is very liberating for me.”
The same could be said for Street. After two Olympic medals, a gold in Nagano and silver in Lillehammer, after nine World Cup titles and so many exhausting comebacks, there would be no more pressure to win, no more fear of injury.
The 30-year-old Street will be married in the fall to ski technician Jerry Mulligan.
“My entire wedding party was here in place today to watch me race my last race,” she said.
In a few years, Street plans to start a family. In the near future, she wants to lure more young people into skiing.
Ski racing is over, but the skiing never will be.
“I love skiing. It will be forever in my life,” she said. “I look forward to many days out sliding around the mountain, not trying to make some perfect turn and make some perfect line through the gates.
“I’ll always be a child on my skis. Itt will always be fun. It will be a way for me to stay young forever.”
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press