Street, Picabo (1971—)

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Street, Picabo (1971—)

American Olympic downhill and slalom skier. Pronunciation: Peek-a-boo. Born in Triumph, Idaho, on April 3, 1971; daughter of Roland Street (a stonemason) and Dee Street (a music teacher).

Won a silver medal at the World Alpine Ski championships and a gold medal at the U.S. Alpine championships (1993); won a silver medal in the downhill event at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway (1994); became the first American woman to win a World Cup downhill title (1995), and repeated her performance the following year (1996); won the downhill title at the World championships (1996); won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan (1998).

Picabo Street was born on April 3, 1971, in Triumph, Idaho, a town with only 50 residents. Her parents were archetypal "flower children," raising their own food and chopping wood for fuel. Intending to let their daughter choose her own name, Roland and Dee Street registered her as "Baby Girl" on her birth certificate. It was not until they discovered that Baby Girl needed a real name for a passport to Mexico that "Picabo," a Native American name meaning "shining waters," replaced Baby Girl.

Street's playmates in Triumph were all boys, and she fought to beat them in football, basketball, and soccer. These childhood games sharpened her zeal for winning, and she brought this competitive spirit to what became her sport of choice: skiing. Her first run on the slopes occurred when she was only five, and by the age of sixteen, Street had won the national junior titles in the downhill and super giant slalom (a combined slalom and downhill race commonly referred to as "Super-G") events. She had raw talent but was undisciplined by nature, leading to an expulsion from the U.S. ski team in July 1990 when she arrived at training camp out of shape and lackadaisical.

The expulsion was a wake-up call to the funloving athlete, who reevaluated her priorities and engaged in a rigorous training schedule to get back into shape. The discipline paid off as Street—ranked the best American woman skier and eighth in the world by 1992—pulled off a surprising silver-medal finish at the 1993 World Alpine Ski championships in Morioka, Japan. That year she also racked up significant victories in her homeland by winning both the U.S. Super-G title and the gold medal at the U.S. Alpine championships.

Despite these victories, Street had no expectations of taking a medal at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. American skiers had been outperformed consistently by European competitors in past Olympics, and Street had not yet shed the "party-girl" reputation that kept many observers from taking her seriously. Thus, she surprised everyone, including herself, when she won the silver medal in the downhill event. The victory kicked off two seasons during which Street dominated the women's downhill events. During the 1995 season she won six of nine World Cup races, becoming the first American woman to take the World Cup downhill title. She repeated this victory the following year, while also winning a gold medal at the World championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain. Street's 1995 endorsement deal with Nike, to promote her own signature sneaker, was further proof of hergrowing stature in the world of sports; she was the company's only female winter athlete. Later endorsement deals included those with Pepsi and the U.S. Dairy Council (in a "Got Milk?" ad), and she also made a guest appearance on "Sesame Street."

With such impressive performances on the ski slopes, Street was positioned for a goldmedal run in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. However, a serious knee ligament injury in 1997 mandated a year of rehabilitation during which she was unable to enter any competitions. Even before she was back on skis, she demonstrated her characteristic competitive streak by riding piggyback while her coach skied the Nagano course so she could get a feel for what she would be facing. Her comeback trail included solid finishes in three World Cup downhill events, although she experienced a minor setback when she sustained a slight concussion in a fall just six days before the start of the Winter Games in February 1998. In the super giant slalom at Nagano, with Germany's Katja Seizinger the clear favorite to win, Street was second down the hill in 1:18.02, despite head and neck pain, and then watched astonished at the bottom as racer after racer failed to beat her time. She won by 100th of a second over Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister , who took the silver; Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer won the bronze. (Seizinger came in 6th.) It was the closest race in the history of the Super G.

Street's injury problems were not yet over, however. Less than a month after her stunning Olympic victory, she fractured her femur in a devastating fall during the season's final World Cup downhill race in Switzerland, necessitating another long rehabilitation. The agonizing 21-month process might have ended the careers of other skiers, but Street conquered depression and pain for another comeback. She returned to the slopes in December 1999 with plans to ski competitively again in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Well aware of her status as a role model, she also makes public appearances to encourage girls and young women to pursue sports. "Girls get the message that they should be pretty objects instead of active beings," she told the Christian Science Monitor. "That doesn't mean a girl can't be feminine and enjoy her appearance, but she should also be able to hit 80 miles per hour on skis if she wants to."

sources:

The Christian Science Monitor. December 15, 1995, p. 10.

Current Biography Yearbook. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1998.

The Day [New London, CT]. February 19, 1996, pp. C1–C2; December 18, 1997.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Helga P. McCue , freelance writer, Waterford, Connecticut

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