Thursday, February 12, 1997
Street something to sing about

The Cincinnati Enquirer

picabo street
Picabo Street shows off her gold medal.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
NAGANO, Japan - Picabo Street reached the top of her lungs, and there was nowhere else to go. She could sing no louder, and she could hear no better. There was too much noise to make herself heard, and too much emotion to make herself stop.

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''I figured if I sang, maybe I wouldn't cry and look pathetic,'' the American skier said Wednesday. ''You never know. This could be one moment in time.''

She was standing on a platform in Nagano's Central Square, a gold medal draped around her neck, the ''Star-Spangled Banner'' resounding in her ears. Street had been rehearsing the national anthem for years - had learned all the words, had found the right pitch, had practiced in the living room while her mother accompanied on the piano - only to be drowned out in her big stage debut.

''I thought about my mom teaching me how to sing, making sure that I got all the words right,'' Street said. '' 'Cause I guarantee you, she was watching my lips. Then I tripped into, 'Wow, I've waited so long to hear the national anthem played for me, and only me.' What a proud moment that is.''

Here is the real glory of the Olympic Games: It is an athlete devoting a lifetime to reaching a goal, and then standing on a platform while the world acknowledges the achievement. It is a scene that defies cynicism and transcends nationalism, like the laughter of children or the flight of doves. It is something to see.

Gold is no accident

Street's moment in time was as hard to anticipate as it will be to forget. The 1994 downhill silver medalist won Wednesday's Olympic Super G (for Giant Slalom) after missing most of last season with a severe knee injury.

Street last visited Nagano with a cast on her leg, during a World Cup competition in March 1997, and toured the course by riding piggyback on her sturdy coach, Andreas Rickenbach. She wanted to know where she was going before she got there, and how best to make the trip.

''When you're going down a hill 80 miles an hour and your event lasts one or two minutes, you have to know all your surroundings,'' she said. ''For me, all season long, it enabled me to visualize this and fantasize about winning.''

If this strange trip saved Street so much as a blink, then it might have made the difference in her winning a gold medal. At the bottom of a hill measuring 2,115 meters, after negotiating 36 gates and 587 meters of vertical drop, Street's margin of victory over Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister was 1 - 100th of a second.

''I knew I had skied well and I had a good run, but I had no idea it was going to leave me up this high on the podium,'' Street said.

Queen of the hill

There was a modest ceremony up on the mountain, but nothing to prepare her for the scene in the center of town. Street walked to the medals platform on an elevated runway, with people packed beneath her like so many snowflakes. When she climbed to the top step, the world's most celebrated skier placed the medal around her neck. Jean-Claude Killy kissed Street on both cheeks and offered his congratulations.

''I said, 'This is an honor, to receive this from you,' '' Street said. ''He said, 'Ah, you did all the hard work.' He said, 'Do it again, huh? I'll see you again on Saturday.' I hope so.''

Saturday is the women's downhill, and Street's specialty. It is a race she lost by .66 seconds in Lillehammer (to Germany's Katja Seizinger); a race she has been pointing to for four years.

''I was up there (on the medals stand) in Lillehammer and the whole time that I heard the German anthem, I couldn't even tell you how it sounded, what a single note of it is,'' Street said. ''I heard my own anthem in my own head. From that moment till now, I've yearned and yearned and yearned to hear that anthem played for myself.''

It is one of the sweetest sounds in sports. Street did not have to hear herself singing to savor it.

Columnist Tim Sullivan is covering the XVIII Winter Olympic Games for the Enquirer.

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