Downhill Champion Street Will be Back on the Mountain Soon

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Park City, UT Nov. 3 (AP by Tim Korte)--The sun-filled window offers Picabo Street a tantalizing vista: a steep hillside where barren ski runs break up clusters of leafless trees.

The sight from the Park City Mountain Resort makes Street restless and giddy, like a 3-year-old eyeing a bucket of candy.

``It's going to snow soon!'' she says, smiling broadly with flushed cheeks. ``You know, from the time the leaves fall until it snows, I'm the devil.''

That's hard to believe, considering things have been heavenly lately for America's spunky downhill skier.

Street is ready to get back on skis for the first time since she broke her leg and blew out her knee in a horrific crash in Switzerland. She was hurt one month after she won the gold medal in the super-G at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

``Eeeeeeeee!'' she shrieks, excited about the prospect of skiing again. ``I can't even believe it!''

No doubt, the 28-year-old Street is past those depressing months that followed her accident. These days, life is great.

Last summer she bought a chalet that overlooks Park City.

``It's a 7 1/2-acre piece that gives me some elbow room,'' Street said. ``I can see everyone coming from up on a hill. I have a view, like I always promised myself I would.''

She has a new job as director of skiing at Park City Mountain Resort, which renamed an expert's trail, Clementine, to Picabo's Run to honor its famous employee.

Although she can't compete yet, Street will serve as hostess when the men's and women's World Cup slalom and giant slalom races are held in Park City from Nov. 18-21.

And undeterred by the crash at Crans Montana and her 20-month rehabilitation, she's got big dreams of racing the downhill in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

``I'd like to carry the flag during the opening ceremonies,'' Street said. ``Then I'd like a bronze medal to finish my Olympic medal collection. Everything else above that would be gravy.''

Then there's Plan B.

If the high-speed downhill or super-G prove too difficult, even for America's most decorated woman downhiller, Street said she's considering giant slalom, which places greater emphasis on technical precision.

``Obviously, my long boards get first choice,'' she said. ``If they don't work, then I'll revert to shorter skis. But I'm going to try to get on the downhill skis, if I can, because I like them.''

Then again, Park City is the Olympic giant slalom venue.

``I'd really like to race at home here in the GS,'' Street said with a sigh. ``I've got to decide. To be racing here during the Olympics, I need to be racing next year.''

Street broke her left femur and ripped ligaments in her right knee, tumbling down the Swiss mountain on March 13, 1998. Last March, surgeons removed a metal plate that had been attached to mend the bone.

``She had an incredibly severe injury,'' said Cindy Nelson, a three-time Olympic downhiller and the United States flag-bearer at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Street said exercises needed to regain her strength were demanding. So was trying to forget about the accident.

``I don't dream about it anymore,'' Street said. ``I don't really have flashbacks at all anymore, either. I haven't seen the video in a long time, which helps. I'm moving forward.''

Nelson said Street's ``incredibly strong mind,'' relentless competitive spirit and ability to excel at technical aspects of the downhill ``make Picabo so phenomenally great.''

``That crash could have been career-ending,'' Nelson said. ``Most people might have considered a comeback, but they wouldn't have the power of mind and the spirit to undergo and withstand such a brutal challenge.''

She's tough, but Street admits she's got limits.

``That's something that people misinterpret about me,'' she said. ``I'm not inhuman. I'm not fearless. I just recognize the fear, categorize it and replace it with thee task at hand.''

This fall, that means getting on skis again.

``I'm 85 percent, maybe 90 percent, and getting myself ready every day,'' she said. ``I just need a little more time. I'm about a month away right now.''

Street plans to train lightly this winter when she's not riding the Park City lifts or chatting with resort guests.

Her new job has challenges. Always a full-throttle skier, Street is ``scared big time'' about slowing down to help ski-school instructors. And she's been skiing so long, she doesn't know how to teach the sport.

``I have to learn to read folks,'' she said. ``I have to be careful about offending someone if I say, `Hey, if you unbuckle your boots, you can walk down the stairs a lot easier.'''

That's the workaday Picabo. In the long run, she hopes to be back on the World Cup circuit within a year.

``I'm going for it,'' Street said. ``I'm going to ski myself into shape and move into competition in the fall of 2000. I've still got some good years left.''

Copyright (c) 1999 The Associated Press