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Past Year Hasn’t Been On Easy Street For Picabo World Cup Spill Nearly Kept U.S. Skier From Olympics

Mon., Feb. 9, 1998

Skiers call it a wipeout, that frightening moment when they lose control coming down the hill and go flying off into space, arms and legs flailing helplessly.

It is an instant frozen in time, one when the danger of their sport is very real. And for American Picabo Street, it was a moment that nearly wrecked her comeback.

Street, the silver medalist in the women’s downhill at Lillehammer in 1994, skis in the women’s super-G at Nagano today.

Also on the CBS schedule are the final runs in men’s luge, the first of two races in men’s 500-meter speedskating, the women’s snowboarding giant slalom and the men’s 30K classic cross-country skiing.

For Street, the super-G is an exclamation point on a comeback that nearly ended in disaster little more than a week ago.

This is a race, and an Olympics, she came perilously close to missing.

Street had battled her way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee suffered in December 1996, seven years after she first tore the same ligament. The injury, which usually requires a two-year recovery, kept her out of action for a year.

The plan was to recover in time for Nagano, a goal Street called “the pretty picture.” During her rehab, she visited the downhill course at Hakuba, and was toted down on the back of her coach, Andreas Rickenbach. It was a dose of incentive to get well for the Olympics.

After a long, difficult rehabilitation, Street made it back to the slopes. Then, just a week before the Nagano Games began, she was knocked unconscious in a scary crash at a World Cup race in Sweden.

The accident occurred when one of her bindings pre-released, sending her careening out of control.

Street suffered a slight concussion and some bumps and bruises, but her legs weren’t hurt. Within days she was herself again, complaining most of all that she had broken one of her favorite skis, no small issue for a world-class skier. She still had two good ones left for Nagano.

Physically, Street said she was fine, with only a sore neck and some soft tissue damage. Still, she understood how narrowly she had escaped disaster. “It was a humbling experience,” she said.

In some ways she thought the crash might have been a good thing.

“It’s when you really know you’re back, 100 percent, and no matter what happens, you’re going to be OK,” she said. “I’m more confident in my body and how it’s going to hold up.”

She faces a stern test in the super-G, a sort of hybrid race that combines elements of the downhill and giant slalom. There are a minimum of 35 gates to negotiate and one run against the clock in which to do it. Still ahead for her is the downhill, scheduled for Friday.

With Street hurt, Germany’s Katja Seizinger has dominated the World Cup season in her specialties, winning a combined seven gold medals in downhill and super-G. Still, the American comes into these games confident and fired up about her chances.

“I’m looking for a gold medal,” Street said. “That’s my goal.”

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