Past Washes Away With Golden Moment
By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page A1
With her gold medal for the women's super giant slalom around her neck, Street sang and thought of her mother, who taught her the words to the anthem at the piano in their living room in Idaho. She sang and thought about the last time she stood on an Olympic medal stand, in Lillehammer in 1994, when she wore the silver medal for the women's downhill and listened to the German anthem blare for victor Katja Seizinger, who stood at her side.
"I was up there in Lillehammer, listening to the German anthem, and I can't tell you a word of it, because I had my own anthem in my head," said Street. "And, at that moment, I yearned, and yearned, and yearned."
As she stood on the medal stand this evening, fighting back tears, Street forgot about all the things that had become between Lillehammer and Nagano the horrific knee injury she suffered in December 1996, the painful surgery that followed, the long rehabilitation, and the day, just last September, when she sat down on a ski slope in Chile, in mid-run, and started to sob because she could not believe she would be ready to ski when these Olympics began.
This gold-medal moment, long dreamed of, arrived before even Street had hoped it would come. When she arrived in Nagano remarkably recovered from her knee surgery and a concussion she suffered when knocked unconscious in a spill in Are, Sweden, just days earlier Street had regained full confidence in her skiing and, she hoped, full strength in her knee. Still, she was expected to be a serious gold medal contender in the women's downhill, which is scheduled for Saturday morning (Friday night EST). The Super-G was expected to be little more than a warmup. Street, who finished 10th in that event in Lillehammer, turned it into a grand Olympic moment instead.
"I hope everyone at home is smiling and got what they've been waiting for,"
Street strapped on downhill skis for this event at the direction of her coaches, who decided that the Super-G course was set up much like a downhill and that Street would get the best run on those skis. The coaches were right. Street barreled down the course, taking advantage of the room between gates and flying through the turns with abandon. She was the second skier down the slope, and finished in 1 minute 18.02 seconds. That time would hold up, giving her the gold medal over Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister by one one-hundredth of a second.
"The thing I think about that one one-hundredth," Street said, "is that you've got to look up and go 'Thank you, that was meant to be.'‚"
If she had been told, though, during her long, difficult months of rehabilitation that this victory was destined, she would have laughed. A little less than a year ago, while the rest of the world's skiers were competing at the world championships in a trial run in Nagano, Street was in Hawaii, on the beach, barely able to do anything more than take a short swim.
"I was going to be dethroned," said Street, who was the overall World Cup champion in both 1995 and 1996, "and I wasn't even able to be there and do something about it. So I didn't even want to think about skiing."
Once she did return to the slopes, Street found improvement to be slow going. The most difficult moment came on that mountain in Chile in early September, when she was trying to complete a training run with the U.S. women's team. She couldn't ski the way she used to. She couldn't ski without pain. It broke her, for a moment, then it made her whole.
"That was probably the lowest for me," Street said. "I had to make a lot of decisions. And the big thing I did at that moment was [I] just stepped all the way back away and looked at the big, big picture not the moment I was living in with my knee.
"I looked at this season, my career, past events, past experiences others have had with this situation, and at that point I kind of gave up on a master plan for myself and just concentrated on the little stuff, day by day. And every once in a while I looked up at the horizon and what my goal was."
Remarkably, Street accomplished more than that goal when she finished her run this morning. It was a spectacular run, one that Street did not know would earn her a medal, but one that pleased her nonetheless. At the bottom of the hill, she shared an emotional hug with her orthopedist, Richard Steadman, the man who reconstructed her knee after she tore it to pieces in addition to tearing the anterior cruciate ligament, Street ripped part of her calf muscle from the bone and fractured her left femur during a downhill run in Vail, Colo., 14 months ago.
"My eyes welled up for sure," she said of the moment she embraced Steadman. "I think we thought back to the laughs we had in the hospital when he was operating on my knee and I was wide awake and trying not to pay attention. We both welled up."
Several hours later, under the light of a full moon in Nagano's Central Square, Street welled up again as she heard the familiar sound of the American anthem. She had practiced the words, practiced singing it out loud, at her mother's direction for most of last summer. Street had been invited to sing the anthem at a college football game and she did not want to be embarrassed. The trip to Chile forced the cancellation of her appearance. To her disappointment, she never had her chance to prove her worthiness to sing the anthem in public.
"It didn't work out," she said, shrugging. "Appropriately enough, I was waiting for here."
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