- 04 Mar 2015
- IOC News
Picabo Street: Remembering Lillehammer
One of the leading lights of women’s Alpine skiing in the 1990s, Picabo Street was crowned Olympic super-G champion at Nagano 1998. However, in the latest instalment of our Words of Olympians series, the American reveals her most treasured memory remains the downhill silver medal she captured in Lillehammer four years earlier.
Picabo Street only acquired her first name – derived from a Native American word for “silver water” – at the age of three; up until that point her parents called her “baby girl”. She grew up in the aptly named Triumph, in the US state of Idaho, where she developed both an exuberant personality and an aptitude for skiing. She took part in her first competitive race at the nearby Sun Valley ski resort at the age of six.
Proving adept at speed-focused disciplines, she would go on to become the greatest American female downhill and super-G skier of her generation, later inspiring Lindsey Vonn, who regards Street as her idol, to achieve even greater heights.
Street first rose to international prominence at the 1993 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Morioka (JPN), where she won a silver medal in the combined. Subsequently, at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer (NOR), she finished 66/100th of a second behind Katja Seizinger (GER) in the downhill to pick up another silver.
During the 1994-1995 campaign, the Idaho native enjoyed six downhill successes on the FIS World Cup circuit and became the first woman from outside Europe to be awarded the small crystal globe in the discipline. Building on those results the following season, she repeated that feat, while adding a downhill title and a super-G bronze medal at the 1996 World Championships in Sierra Nevada (ESP).
Then in December 1996 she suffered a setback, injuring her knee in training. After spending much of 1997 recovering, she returned to the slopes in style, winning an Olympic gold in the super-G at Nagano 1998. Her victory was secured by the slimmest of margins (1/100th of a second) ahead of Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister.
“I’m probably expected to say that the best moment in my career was when that gold medal was placed around my neck in Nagano, because it was a unique experience,” says Street.
“However, it’s worth noting that I preferred certain races to others, and not just the ones that I won. I earned a gold and a silver at the Games, but I have to admit that even though the gold was incredible, the stuff dreams are made of, the silver medal I received in Lillehammer occupies a special place in my heart, because it was my first Games.
“I wasn’t expected to get a medal; I was really just there to take part, to feel that nervous energy, to savour the experience. And then, much to my and everyone else’s surprise, I ended up on the podium. That’s why it was so special to me.”
One month after her Nagano victory, Street suffered another knee injury during a downhill race in Crans-Montana (SUI). This one was more serious and forced her to sit out the next two years. She returned to the international arena towards the end of 2000, and took part in the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, where she finished 16th in the downhill, prior to announcing her retirement.
“The Olympic Games really do transcend borders,” she reflects. “There is no other event or sport that can compare to them in terms of global significance.”
Though no longer competing, Street has not lost touch with the skiing world or with the Games themselves, making an Olympic pilgrimage every four years in her role as a commentator for American television.