Picabo poised to pass downhill torch
February 22, 2008
In her mid-20s, Picabo Street was being chased by the other women on the World Cup tour. She won nine downhill races, took the 1998 Olympic super-G gold medal by the thinnest victory margin in Olympic history, was gold medalist in downhill and bronze medalist in super-G at the ’96 World Championships, silver medalist in downhill at the 1994 Winter Games, and combined silver medalist at the ’93 World Championships.
In her mid-30s, Picabo Street is doing the chasing. Laughing, giggling, scratching and loving it as she tries to keep up daily with son Trey, a 3-1/2-year-old hurricane of energy and intellectual curiosity, often in cowboy boots.
She’s also keeping tabs these days on Lindsey Vonn, the Park City resident who set sail Friday to join Street as the only World Cup downhill season champions from the USA. Going into Friday’s downhill on what will be the 2010 Olympic speed track at Whistler Mountain, Vonn had 575 points to 323 for the only skier with a chance of overtaking her, Renate Goetschl of Austria. To win the title, Goetschl would have to win all three remaining races and hold Vonn to just 47 points in three races. Improbable if not impossible.
So, Street said Thursday in a phone interview, she was anxious to see Vonn win. If she wins the title, Vonn moves up alongside her childhood idol, who has become a good friend. And if Vonn wins the race, she moves past Street and retired men’s star Daron Rahlves, the first Yank to win 10 World Cup downhills.
"Go, girl! I’ve told her this is her time. I’m so happy for her," Street said. She has no doubt Vonn will get the title, will get the DH wins. And Street figures she’ll be wearing one of the biggest smiles with Vonn’s success.
Vonn’s skills set and her growing maturity, on top of the stability and confidence nurtured by her marriage last September to ex-Olympian Thomas Vonn, should keep her dominant.
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"Technically, she comes from a more sound place than I did," said Street, who won the NorAm overall titles in 1991 and ’92 before she began shredding World Cup downhill courses. "She[s really sound and comfortable to watch because she’s solid."
Street likes the way Vonn, known for her to-the-limit conditioning workouts, uses those workouts as an island of peace. "She’ll stay in the gym for eight hours. That tells me Lindsey’s found a way, in the midst of this intensity, to relax.
"And on those days when you’re on hold (at a race because of weather, or whatever) — but you can go any minute, she’s finding other things to do. Maybe she’ll read a book, or listen to her iPod, or maybe text message. It’s like eating rice before you go to Japan, so you’re a little used to it. She’ setting herself up to be comfortable in her environment," Street said.
Vonn also has developed a sense in which she "can pick and choose on the fly, adjusting as she comes into a section. She can chase that ‘bad boy’ track or go for the tactically smart line. She can adjust so well on the fly," Street said.
"Lindsey has this internal drive that is so much fun. She has a few people she shows it to, and I’m honored to be one of them, but it’s kind of funny when she displays it because she’s this sweet package around this deep drive to succeed," Street said. "She’s very competitive, and in that way she reminds me of me. Her reactions to certain things are exactly like mine.
"I mean, Lindsey’s this tall and beautiful female. She’s got such great hair and she’s really just such a girl, so feminine… and, down deep, she has this fire to win."
When she was racing, Street would say she had "my tiger inside" and on race day, that inner tiger would respond to the challenge. When a friend suggested, "Tigers come in different shapes and sizes," she smiled and nodded, "Oh, yeah. Lindsey’s got her tiger, too. It’s that competitive ‘tiger’ that makes her a winner."
When Vonn was home, relaxing in Park City last week, Street and her son were at Vermont’s Killington resort — the largest resort in the Northeast — as she taped a segment for Resort Sports Network. "I’m bumming because I missed Lindsey when she was home — she was in town and I wasn’t. I haven’t seen her since Aspen" in early December.
Street was there for a "Powder Girls" program organized by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation, but she slipped over to the women’s World Cup downhill and caught up with Vonn, who had finished fourth, in the finish area. "I gave her a big hug and she said, ‘I’m pissed’ because she hadn’t won, but I told her to relax, it was a good result, take the points… and make it [a win] happen when she gets to Europe."
Tamara McKinney holds the U.S. records for World Cup wins by a woman with 18. Vonn, going into Friday’s downhill, had 12. It took her a couple of seasons, but with three wins a year ago and five so far this winter, she seems to be shifting into gear for an assault on the record.
"When I was getting started, Tamara looked at me in Grindelwald (Switzerland) and said, ‘You have incredible fire, and as soon as you learn to channel it, you’re gonna have a great career.’ It takes people with the talent a while to find their way," Street said.
"I think Lindsey’s found hers, but she also knows she’s got an incredible support system around her. She feeds off that, and that’s great because it clearly works for her."
And if all else fails, Vonn knows Street — Mother Street, confidante Picabo — is available 24/7 to listen, to provide feedback, to play cheerleader.. .to do whatever will help.