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SKIING / CHRIS DUFRESNE : Before Too Long, Picabo Street May Be a Household Name

February 26, 1993|CHRIS DUFRESNE

WINTER PARK, Colo. — No one expected that Picabo Street would grow up to be town librarian.

Not with that name.

Like the boy named Sue in Johnny Cash's song, Picabo had to come out swinging or end up in the mud and the blood and the beer.

She grew up a moonchild, a daughter of '60s parents, a free spirit and sometimes a pain in the you-know-what.

Would you believe she waited a year and a half for that name?

Her parents planned to let her name herself when she was old enough until some government people demanded a first name before issuing (blank) Street a passport.

So mom and pop Street came up with Picabo, an Indian word meaning "shining water." It is pronounced peekaboo .

Nearly twenty years later, Picabo Street is the greatest name in women's skiing and either the best or worst thing to happen to the sport in years.

Paul Major, the U.S. women's coach, calls Street a "loose cannon on deck."

In the summer of 1990, the coach blew the cannon off the deck of the U.S. ski team for general insubordination.

Antics?

"I've got a list of those," Major says. "So many bad things I don't want to talk about them. Missing meetings, coming in late, leaving early, just coming to camp in terrible shape. She's a very instantaneous person. Usually she has no filter from her head to her mouth."

Street would take that as a compliment.

"The wild ones are the winners," she says.

Street wants to become the Alberto Tomba of the U.S. team. She wants to ski like hell and make the international tabloids.

"I've always thought about that," she said of the comparison to Tomba, "La Bomba," Italy's flaming star of slalom. "I could see myself as being that, because I do have that spunkiness. But I'm definitely not confident with myself. Maybe if I win a couple of World Cups, then I can start on that role."

Some in the media have already dubbed Picabo "La Bombette."

Street, a 21-year-old from Sun Valley, Ida., burst on the scene at the recent World Championships in Japan, winning a silver medal in combined.

She followed by winning a national title in super-giant slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships here, taking third in downhill.

Is the United States ready for Picabo?

Let's hope so.

After winning the silver in Japan, Street said she was going to use the prize money to buy a motorcycle.

In her media guide biography last year, Street listed her hobbies as "mud wrestling, 'American Gladiators' and making whoopee with my boyfriend Mike."

U.S. coaches aren't sure whether to rein her in or let her go. The characteristics that make her a problem child are the same ones that make her a terror in the downhill.

It is not uncommon for Street to shout four-letter words at the end of a run with which she is not pleased.

And after a poor showing in slalom here last week, she screamed at the top of her lungs: "My edges are too sharp!"

Translation: It's the ski tech's fault.

Major covered his ears and winced.

"She announced it to the world," he said. "And that's not very professional behavior.'

And the profanities?

"I think she did a couple of those afterward," Major said. "That's not the image she should carry. She's a great girl. She should clean that up."

Fat chance, Coach.

Street isn't much on authority or patience.

At last year's nationals, she decided she wanted an athletic bag that was buried beneath a tangle of skis in the team van.

She wanted it, like, right now.

Picabo grabbed the handle of the bag, put both feet on the bumper and pulled with all her might.

The handle broke, sending Street into the street, smack on her tailbone.

"She went to the hospital," Major said. "We got the bag out."

You know how it goes in sports: The U.S. ski team will tolerate Street so long as she produces.

Even Picabo acknowledges her work habits had to change.

Bummer.

"It means being away from home, being away from family, going to bed early at night, eating right--just everything," she said, almost disgustedly.

"I figure there's plenty of time after this to enjoy the crazy things in life."

That isn't to say Picabo is a pushover.

"If someone tells me something that I disagree with, I don't freak out or yell at them, but I kind of turn and go the other way," she said. "I'll deal with the repercussions later. . . . I feel like I know what's right for me. A lot of people think they may and a lot of people do, but there's a lot of people who don't, too. There's no one that knows me better than me."

So, Picabo Street is off and running.

The question is: Can anyone stop her? Does anyone want to?

"She is a wild one," Major said. "If she can keep that wildness directed and controlled, she's going to be very successful."

Skiing Notes

Although it featured most of the top skiers, the U.S. Alpine Championships are supposed to be a showcase for younger Americans trying to make an impression. The courses are flatter and slower than World Cup runs to help even the playing field. The U.S. A-team skiers were exhausted, having flown from the World Championships in Japan to Winter Park.

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