Street climbing steep road back

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The Independent Online

For Picabo Street, the climb back to her former heights is as slow as she used to ski fast.

For Picabo Street, the climb back to her former heights is as slow as she used to ski fast.

And after racing in her first downhill since shattering her left femur and shredding right knee ligaments at the World Cup finals in Crans Montana in 1998, the 28-year-old American knows it's not going to go any faster.

"It gets better every time I go down, but it's going to take awhile. I know that," said Street, who placed 24th in Saturday's downhill after finishing out of the points in 34th place in her comeback race, a super-G in Val d'Isere the previous week. "I'm just building on my confidence and pretty soon I'm hoping to get to a place where I'll do all the little things that you have to do right to do well in the downhill.

"I know what those things are but I'm not able to work on them yet because I'm not confident enough. I'm excited for the day to come where I can work all the little things out."

Though her accident occurred in Switzerland, Street apparently did not hold a grudge against the tiny alpine nation, choosing to race her first downhill - the same discipline that nearly ended her career - on Swiss snow.

"I don't like Crans Montana and I'll never ski there again, but the rest of Switzerland is wonderful," she said. "It's not so much a geographical thing, just which courses and what the weather is like there."

With the sunny weather and good light, Street's return to downhill racing was a success, the American completing the course, attacking more and finishing in the points.

"I didn't think about being afraid or waiting for the course to come to me. I kind of charged and went for the course more," said Street. "I planned what I wanted to do and I executed this plan.

"That's what I feel is a success for me today. And not being afraid and a victim to the course. I was in control of myself today."

Though it's not the first time that Street has made a comeback, this time by far has been the hardest.

Street had her first encounter with career threatening injury at the world championships in Vail in 1996, when she tore ligaments in her left knee in training after winning the downhill title, but quickly bounced back to win Olympic gold in the super-G in 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

However, only a month later in Crans Montana, another grisly accident left her with casts on both legs and unsure of her future.

Now, after more than two years spent recovering, Street is still unsure what the future holds for her and for the moment the Olympic and world champion is keeping her goals modest and within reach.

"If the light is good tomorrow, I would like to make a top-20 finish and stay in the top 20 afterwards. That's my target," said Street, showing little of the brashness she used to.

But still showing the same determination and grit, Street was anxious for a second crack at the downhill in Sunday's race.

"I want another shot at it," said Street. "I was very disappointed yesterday when we didn't have a training run because I get so much better each time I go down a downhill.

"They took one away from me yesterday and it made me a little angry but when I saw the weather I said 'okay, it's for the best.' And today, with the weather and the good light, it was more than I could ask for. If it's like this tomorrow, I know I can do much better."

Brigitte Obermoser led an Austrian sweep of the top two places in Saturday's race to clinch her first career downhill victory and silence the team's critics.

Coming back from North America with just one podium finish in two downhills - a third place by Renate Goetschl in Lake Louise - the Austrian team had been the target of scathing criticism from the national media.

But starting back in 27th place, Obermoser charged down the Corviglia I course in 1 minute, 38.68 seconds to win the downhill and prove critics wrong. The fact teammate and reigning overall World Cup champion Renate Goetschl finished runner-up in 1:39.03, only made it that much sweeter.

Canada's Emily Brydon, the 44th skier down, prevented an Austrian sweep of the top five places with a sizzling third place chrono of 1:39.11.

The young Canadian bumped Michaela Dorfmeister off the podium, the Austrian forced to settle for fourth with 1:39.15. Alexandra Meissnitzer, the 1998 overall World Cup champion, slipped to fifth in 1:39.16 and Tanja Schneider, sixth in 1:39.44.

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