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SKIING / WORLD CUP FINALS : Seizinger Wins; Street Settles for Fourth


VAIL, Colo. — The days of Picabo Street fights are apparently over.

In Wednesday's downhill at the World Cup Finals, the former bad-girl of the U.S. ski team was denied a top-three finish when Canada's Kate Pace bounced Street into fourth place with the day's second-fastest run.

The old Picabo might have started an international snowball fight. The new Street--Olympic silver medalist and role model--finds herself surrounded by children, not controversy.

"Staying off the podium all year is actually good for me," said Street, 22, of Sun Valley, Ida. "I have to pay more dues to be up on that podium. Once I get there, I'll be there for a long time."

Germany's Katja Seizinger won the final women's downhill and ran off with the World Cup downhill title.

Seizinger, selecting the 14th start bib, won with a time of 1 minute 47.08 seconds on a course softened by temperatures in the 60s. Pace finished second, 0.18 behind, and Switzerland's Vreni Schneider finished third.

Schneider, the gate-specialist who once feared the speed events, now takes on all challengers.

Unfortunately, what figured to be an exciting weeklong battle between Schneider and Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg for the women's overall title apparently ended when Wiberg crashed 45 seconds into her run and injured her ribs.

Wiberg was taken to Vail Valley Medical Center for observation and released. It is not clear whether she will race again this week.

Wiberg entered the competition trailing Schneider by 41 points in the overall standings.

"I wish she could ski," Schneider said. "I don't want the World Cup (overall), which is very close, to be decided by an injury."

Street, a close friend of Wiberg's, tried to comfort the Swedish star before she was taken to the hospital.

"I think she's just scared," Street said. "But she's a tough girl. I think she wanted it too much, tried too hard."

With Wiberg's spill came some controversy. She was allowed to leave the start gate although there had been a temporary stop in the action to attend to France's Melanie Suchet, who had crashed near the finish. Suchet was not seriously injured.

Wiberg, skiing 17th, after Suchet, was flagged off the course and ordered to restart. She ended up the last skier down and crashed on the run's technical portion.

Street skied tentatively through the same section, probably costing her her first World Cup top-three finish.

Street was happy to finish standing. This is not a career to be tampered with. Street has become a huge fan favorite, particularly with children.

"It's because I'm nice to them," she said. "I respect them and give them the time of day. I was a kid once, not too long ago."

World Cup Notes

Picabo Street fell short of the 400 points needed to qualify for today's women's super-G. . . . Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt finished 11th in Wednesday's downhill to maintain a comfortable lead over Luxembourg's Marc Girardelli in the men's overall standings. "It looks good," Aamodt said. "With normal skiing, I think I can hold it." . . . Switzerland's Franz Heinzer, the four-time World Cup downhill champion, raced his final downhill and finished 12th. Heinzer announced his retirement at the Lillehammer Olympics, one day after popping out of his right binding only a few yards out of the start gate. . . . American gold medalist Diann Roffe-Steinrotter makes her final World Cup appearance in today's super-G. . . . Tommy Moe, looking to become a four-event skier, said he will ski in both the slalom and giant slalom this week. Moe is one of the favorites in today's super-G and trails Girardelli by only 47 points in the race for the World Cup title in the discipline.

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