The beat goes on for Picabo Street
Retirement hasn’t slowed down Picabo Street.Since leaving the World Cup in 2002, America’s greatest female ski racer has collared polar bears on the Canadian tundra of Hudson Bay, trained with a NASCAR pit crew and become a mom. Life away from the grind of competitive ski racing for the incomparable speed specialist, who was in Vail two weeks ago to ski in the American Ski Classic, has been good, to say the least.Street won silver in the downhill in the 1994 Winter Olympics and Olympic gold in super-G in 1998. She also won the World Cup overall downhill title twice and three World Championship medals. Nothing, she said, compares to the joy of being a mom. Before she gave birth to her son, Treyjan James Pawley, in August, Street said she struggled with what could be labeled as “World Cup withdrawal.””It was kind out of my control,” she said. “It was a chemical thing. It’s just in my system and there were certain times of the year when I would get in these moods, and I didn’t know what was causing them. I realized that it was the beginning of October and I was supposed to be packing for a two-week trip to the glaciers in Europe. It was in my blood to be at 11,000 or 12,000 feet for a couple of weeks at that time. And, because I didn’t go up there, my system was like, ‘Hey wait a minute.'”
She said it took her two years before she fully understood her sudden mood swings. Once the problem was pinpointed, she said, she was able to make necessary life adjustments. “I’d just kind of get bitchy all the sudden, and everyone would be like, ‘What happened to you?'” Street said. “I’d be like, ‘I’m supposed to be traveling!’ After two years of the same pattern, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s what’s happening.’ I didn’t have any control over it in the beginning.”She said she’s mellowed some, though there’s no changing who she truly is on the inside.And in case you’ve forgotten, Picabo Street was – and still is – one of the most fierce competitors the World Cup has ever seen. Driven. Brash. Stubborn. Electric.Her competitive pulse was on full display at the Ski Classic. She cursed at herself in the finish corral when she lost a head-to-head race. She also accused Swiss skiing legend Bernhard Russi, who was being inducted into the International Ski Hall of Fame that weekend, of sandbagging in previous runs to get a better handicap so he could get a headstart out of the gates.She said afterward she can’t stand to lose. To hell if it’s just a celebrity pro-am race – it’s still a race!It’s the attitude that won Street legions of fans when she was competing on the U.S. Ski Team. Before Bode Miller became the face of U.S. skiing, Street played the role of the cocky American giant to a tee and became a household name because of it.
She was embraced because she was an unapologetic winner who did things her way. Street said she sees parallels between her and Bode, but was quick to mention that while their personalities – and their upbringings – are alike, they don’t ski the same way.Street grew up in tiny Triumph, Idaho, raised by counterculture parents who let her pick her own name, among other things. Miller grew up in a cabin without electricity or running water in the wilds of New Hampshire. His hippie parents let him learn things – including going really fast on skis – on his own.”I think there’s a certain unpredictability that accompany us, and that’s what people are drawn to,” Street said. “It’s a different unpredictability, however, for him. For me it was more like, ‘Once she crosses the finish line, how’s she gonna react? Is she gonna be pissed? Is she gonna break her pole or hit somebody? Or, is she gonna smile and be cool and blow everybody out? What’s she gonna do?'”Street then made this comparison.”With Bode, it’s ‘Is he going to finish?’ Or, how many knuckles is he gonna drag and how much of an adrenaline rush is he going to give you when you’re watching him race?’ I’m uncomfortable when I watch him ski. There’s some people who you can watch ski, and you watch them and it’s really nice and they just kind of float. Like Daron (Rahlves), he’s just kind of solid when you watch him ski. Bode makes you paranoid. He’s right there, right on the brink of blowing out at all times. That’s the thrill of it that even myself is attracted to when I watch him.”Street said she also sees a lot of herself in Vail’s Lindsey Kildow. Kildow surprised competitors and coaches alike this season by consistently finishing on the podium.
“I hope she beats every record that I ever set,” Street said. “Every record that anyone can come up with that I ever set. I hope she beats them all. It was cool experience for me, and I know it will be for her. She’s similar to me in that she has friends that she races against on the tour. That’s important to her, and she has a good time. She’s really competitive with herself and she gets mad when she doesn’t do well, just like I still do. That’s genetically in her and that’s never going to go away. That, and the love for the fall line are what sets her apart.”Kildow may be on her way to becoming the next ‘Picabo’ heading into the Torino Winter Olympics next year. For now, however, Street still stands alone.Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com. Vail, Colorado