SNOWBASIN, Utah (AP) Picabo Street, her star-spangled ponytail flapping as she sped down the Wildflower course, finished 16th in her Olympic finale yesterday even trailing two U.S. teammates.
“This is the last race of my career,” she said. “I’m not going to have to live without skiing. I’m just going to have to live without trying to be perfect on my skis everyday, which is wonderful.”
Street, who was trying to become the first American woman to win three Olympic skiing medals, had the best time at the top of the mountain but lost speed in the middle of the course as she fought to control her skis.
After blowing kisses through her helmet to the wildly cheering crowd, she grabbed a microphone and thanked the fans.
“This is the best day in my ski racing career and it’s because of you. Thank you,” she said. “Thanks Mom and Dad, you always supported me. You waited for that phone call at 4 o’clock in the morning. And you won’t have to wait any more, because I’ll be home.”
Street finished behind compatriots Jonna Mendes, who was 11th, and Kirsten Clark, who was 12th. The fourth U.S. skier, Caroline Lalive, missed a gate near the bottom of the course and did not finish.
The winner was a shocker: Carole Montillet of France, who has never won a World Cup downhill, won gold with a time of 1 minute, 39.56 seconds.
Isolde Kostner of Italy was second in 1:40.01, and Renate Goetschl of Austria won bronze in 1:40.39 in a race postponed from Monday because of high winds. The start of the race also was delayed more than two hours yesterday by gusting winds.
Montillet’s victory was salve for a French squad that has been in mourning since the October death of team leader Regine Cavagnoud, killed in a training accident.
Montillet, 28, 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 Montillet, who carried the French flag at Friday’s opening ceremony and was wrapped in a blue, white and red French flag in the finish area yesterday.
For the 30-year-old Street, it was remarkable that she was even racing.
A month after her victory in the super giant slalom at the 1998 Nagano Games, she broke her left leg and mangled her right knee in a crash and was off skis for 21 months.
She got off to a good start yesterday, 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 hills.
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 the scoreboard in disbelief and then lowered her head. But then she waved both hands to the crowd and blew kisses.
Street won the silver in the downhill at Lillehammer in 1994 and a gold in the super-G in 1998.
The prospect of an Olympic farewell on home snow motivated her through her comeback, a process she was all too familiar with after blowing out a knee twice before.