Picabo Street: Road Hog in World Cup's Fast Lane
This weekend, US skier goes for her seventh consecutive downhill win
IF ever a sport and an athlete were made for each other, they are downhill ski-racing and Picabo Street.Skip to next paragraph
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Until last year, American skiers had won 102 races in 28 years of World Cup racing, only 12 of them in the prestigious downhill. (The Swiss, by contrast, own 424 victories overall, the Austrians 355.)
Last season, Picabo Street won six - the last five in a row.
This year, the 1994 Olympic silver-medalist has picked up right where she left off, screaming down the course at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, to win the first women's downhill of the season Dec. 3. She skis another World Cup downhill this weekend in St. Anton, Austria.
''Only a handful of downhillers, male or female, have ever done what Picabo's done,'' says Ernst Hager, Street's coach on the US Ski Team, ''and they did it 15 or 20 years ago, when it was much less competitive than it is today.''
How does she do it? Consistent coaching and training is one answer (Americans Hilary Lindh and Kyle Rasmussen each won two World Cup downhills last season). Street's courage and will to win are others.
Street was born at home in Triumph, Idaho, to what might be called hippie parents.
After a difficult birth, newborn Picabo ''caught her breath, cried, then saw us, laughed, and fell asleep,'' says her mother, Dee Street. ''My job was to keep her older brother fed and to keep Picabo alive,'' she says, recounting how fearless Picabo was.
''When I was a toddler,'' Picabo recalls, ''my mother knew if we were out exploring and we were on top of a cliff, that I had to go to the edge and look down. So rather than chase me to the edge of the cliff, she'd go with me and show me the edge.''
When she was 3 and her brother was 5, the family took the first of two, four-month-long trips to Central America to see how people in other cultures lived. Up to that time, Picabo was called ''Baby Girl Street,'' but when she needed a passport, her parents decided to make the name Picabo - they'd been calling her that since she was eight months old - official. Picabo means ''shining waters'' in an Idaho Indian language and is the name of a small town in Idaho.
Picabo grew up 12 miles from Sun Valley in the appropriately named town of Triumph, which was so small there were only eight children. The other seven were boys who didn't cut Picabo any slack in their constant games of football, basketball, and other sports.
The one who cut her the least slack was her brother Baba. When he was 7 and Picabo was 5, Baba took Picabo up the beginners' hill in Sun Valley. ''I cried all the way up the chairlift, then laughed all the way down, doing a figure 11 all the way to the bottom,'' Street says.
In other words, she went straight down.
She chased her brother and her friends all over Sun Valley's Baldy Mountain, where it seems every local knows how to ski fast, especially the children. Sun Valley's race program has produced some excellent skiers, including five at various levels on the US team and Christin Cooper, who won an Olympic medal and five World Cup races in the 1980s.