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Tuesday, February 12, 2002
 
Street finishes 16th behind Montillet, then retires

Associated Press


SNOWBASIN, Utah -- Her finish was unremarkable, her reception anything but.

Picabo Street kissed the ground before the final race of her career, knowing it would all be over in about 100 seconds. And when it was, she stood among the also-rans -- far behind surprise downhill winner Carole Montillet of France, and just third best on the U.S. team.

Yet it hardly mattered to the throng waiting to cheer a daring woman known as much for her courage and spunk as her unusual name.

"This is the best day in my ski racing career and it's because of you. Thank you," she said, grabbing a microphone in the finish area and blowing kisses to the crowd.

"Everybody who cares about me can sleep at night now. Nobody has to worry about phone calls at 3 a.m.," she said.

And with that, Picabo Street said goodbye to the Olympics and competitive skiing.

The 30-year-old racer, completing yet another amazing comeback from major injury, was trying to become the first American woman to win three Olympic skiing medals.

Instead, she lost crucial time struggling to maintain balance midway down a deteriorating Wildflower course and finished 16th.

"I kissed the ground at the top and I said to myself, `In a few minutes I can retire,"' she said.

And so she did. That she was on the mountain at all was remarkable.

A month after her victory in the super giant slalom at the 1998 Nagano Games, Street broke her left leg and mangled her right knee in a crash and was off skis for 21 months. She has not won a major race since then.

"No regrets whatever. If I were to die and come back tomorrow, I'd do it all over again and I'd do it exactly the same," said Street, who lives about an hour's drive away in Park City.

Montillet's victory, the first by a French woman in an Olympic downhill, was a shocker. She has never won a World Cup downhill, and her strongest event is the super giant slalom.

Her victory was salve for a French squad still mourning the October death of team leader Regine Cavagnoud, who was killed in a training accident.

Isolde Kostner of Italy was second in 1:40.01, and Renate Goetschl of Austria won bronze in 1:40.39.

The 28-year-old Montillet went to San Diego for a few days before the Olympics, leaving the World Cup circuit, telling friends she needed to get away from the repeated questions about Cavagnoud.

"I still think of Regine Cavagnoud and I will continue to do so. She will always be in my heart and on my mind," said the winner, who carried her nation's flag during opening ceremonies and was wrapped in France's blue, white and red in the finish area.

Street marveled at Montillet's achievement.

"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, starting 11th, finished in 1 minute, 39.56 seconds. She then watched, somewhat in shock, as the prerace favorites failed to match her time.

First up was Hilde Gerg of Germany, whose body bobbed up and down on the crunchy snow. Next was Kostner and then Goetschl.

Ten racers later came Germany's Michaela Dorfmeister, whose coaches had picked a late starting spot hoping the course would become faster as the snow melted and became icy. They guessed wrong.

By the time Street started from the 26th position, the course was getting messy. The course was built for Street's gliding style, but Mother Nature did not cooperate.

Street had been slated to start second Monday, when the race was postponed because of high winds. The race was delayed another two hours Tuesday by wind, and Street was hoping it would be postponed again.

"I wish the wind wouldn't have stopped blowing. I would have had a better chance," she said. "It was colder and the snow was harder in the morning. The sun changed the snow."

She got off to a good start, posting the best results at the first two timing spots and quickly getting into the tight tuck position that allows her to glide so quickly down mountains.

But she flew a bit high at the first of the course's jumps and then struggled to maintain her balance as she left a trail of snow in her wake. She also was too high off the second jump, losing crucial time.

After she crossed the finish line, she stared at her time of 1:41.17 in disbelief and lowered her head, but quickly recovered and blew kisses to the crowd.

U.S. teammate Jonna Mendes, starting two spots behind Street, beat her by a fifth of a second and placed 11th. Another American, Kirsten Clark, started 17th and finished 12th.

Street, who won silver in the 1994 Olympic downhill, will not try to defend her Super G title later this week.